Young Fishermen’s Development Act approved by Congress

A fishing vessel near Cordova Harbor. (May 14, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Bipartisan legislation similar to programs that provide training, apprenticeships and additional support in the agriculture industry has passed both houses of Congress, in support of the next generation of commercial seafood harvesters.

The Young Fishermen’s Development Act, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and in the House by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is backed by the Fishing Communities Coalition, a national advocacy group representing more than 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners nationwide. It was first proposed by the FCC back in 2015.

“Young people entering our nation’s fisheries deserve support to succeed in this challenging but vital business,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, alfafish.org, a founding member of the FCC.

“Commercial fishing demands a broad skillset to operate safely and successfully,” she said. “We are thrilled by passage of the YFDA and grateful for the effective leadership provided by Alaska’s congressional delegation in moving this Act through Congress.”

The legislation is expected to help mitigate challenges faced by the next generation of commercial fishermen and entrants into the fishing industry by supporting regional training opportunities and apprenticeship programs. Young fishermen have traditionally faced huge challenges in establishing themselves in the industry, from the high cost of entry and financial risks to limited entry-level opportunities. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic added to those challenges, jeopardizing the economic health of individual harvesters and fishing communities which further threatening the nation’s food security and supply chains.

The act will provide competitive grant funding and support for state, tribal, local or regionally based networks such as ALFA’s crew apprentice program and Sitka Fishermen’s Expos.

ALFA is an alliance of small boat commercial fishermen who promote sustainable fisheries and the economies of coastal fishing communities through collaborative research advocacy and education. The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, thealaskatrust.org, is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening fishing communities and marine resources through research, education and economic opportunity.