Dear Representative or Senator:
Despite the important role that the commercial fishing industry plays in our nation’s economy, there is not a single federal program devoted to supporting and developing entry-level commercial fishermen. That is why we write to express our strong support for the Young Fishermen’s Development Act (H.R.2079; S.R. 1323) This bipartisan, bi-coastal legislation seeks to break down the barriers currently facing aspiring fishermen, whose success is essential to the long-term health of the U.S. fishing industry, our fishing communities, and the jobs they support. We appreciate the Committee’s consideration of this legislation and encourage timely action on this critical matter.
With the average age of U.S. commercial fishermen increasing, we are deeply concerned that the graying of America’s fleet poses a substantial and growing threat to the future of the U.S. fishing industry, a major component of the U.S. economy. In 2014, the commercial fishing and related seafood industries supported 1.4 million American jobs and generated $153 billion in annual sales. In 2015, the industry contributed $48.7 billion in value to the U.S. economy.
The next generation faces daunting challenges, including high cost of entry, financial risks, and limited entry-level opportunities. We see these challenges playing out in Alaska in aging trends underpinned by the lack of young people entering the industry and in the ongoing flight of fishing rights from our fishing communities. The number of rural Alaskans holding local fishing permits in state fisheries has declined by 30% since 1975. Some regions like Bristol Bay have lost over 50% of their locally held permits. Similar trends are seen in federal fisheries; rural communities in the Gulf of Alaska have experienced a 53% decline in halibut quota holdings. The loss of local access contributes to the loss of local opportunity.
Not long ago, the agriculture industry faced similar challenges and worked with Congress to create the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. This program provides grants to support young and entry-level farmers and ranchers, and has successfully prepared hundreds of new farmers and ranchers to embark on successful, fulfilling careers and contribute to our economy.
Modeled after this program, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act aims to create a first-of-its-kind national program exclusively dedicated to assisting, educating, and training the next generation of commercial fishermen. This program, an FCC initiative, would provide competitive grants to foster collaborative state, tribal, regional and local partnerships; promote mentorship opportunities for retiring fishermen and vessel owners; and provide support for regional training and education programs focused on accountable, sustainable fishing and sound business practices. The total authorization for the program is $2 million a year for six years, with the funding coming from fines collected from fishermen who violate federal fishing regulations.
This innovative program would ensure America’s fishing communities continue to thrive for future generations by supporting economic opportunity, jobs, and food security while preserving a proud heritage and way of life. We urge you to support this legislation and encourage swift Committee action.