“Graying of the Fleet in Alaska’s Fisheries: Defining the Problem and Assessing Solutions”
The Graying of the Fleet research project won a national award at Sea Grant Week hosted in Portland, Oregon last month. The Sea Grant Association’sResearch to Application Award recognizes notable Sea Grant funded research that elevates public understanding and responsible use of the nation’s ocean, coastal or Great Lakes resources.
The Graying of the Fleet study examines barriers to entry into Alaska commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay and Kodiak Archipelago fishing communities. The research team consists of UAF faculty, Courtney Carothers, AMCC’s Working Waterfronts Director, Rachel Donkersloot, retired Alaska Sea Grant director, Paula Cullenberg, and UAF graduate research assistants, Danielle Ringer and Jesse Coleman. UAF undergraduate student, Alexandra Bateman, also contributed to the study. Alaska Sea Grant and the North Pacific Research Board provided funding for the project.
The three-year study includes a global review of potential policy responses to the graying of the fleet in Alaska in the report: ‘Turning the Tide: How can Alaska address the “graying of the fleet” and loss of rural fisheries access?’ The research team also recently released two journal articles. Another article is currently under development.
“We’re honored that our work has received this recognition,” said AMCC staffer Donkersloot. “From the outset we have worked to meaningfully share project findings with a broad audience. Our team gave more than 60 presentations over the course of this project in local, state, federal and international venues. Last summer we worked with long-time fishermen and industry experts to gather advice that we shared via Public Service Announcements during the fishing season. We are hopeful that our work will continue to inform fisheries policy and better support the next generation of Alaska fishermen.”
The team has also created seven short videos featuring advice to new and young fishermen that are available on the project’s website and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network website. The final report is available at the North Pacific Research Board’s project database. Other project materials and reports are available at fishermen.alaska.edu.
By Rachel Donkersloot & Shannon Carroll
Genetic diversity, life history and age structure are important attributes of healthy fisheries. For example, we know that life history factors, including changes in population size structure or species composition, and recruitment variability affect the ecological sustainability of fisheries. Same goes for spatial factors such as a reduction in the geographic range of a fish population or the loss of a subpopulation.
But fisheries are not just ecological systems. Fisheries are socioecological systems and attributes of diversity, history and age structure are important dimensions to consider in social and cultural contexts as well.
Weak recruitments into commercial fisheries in recent decades, termed the graying of the fleet, paired with dramatic shifts in the spatial distribution of fishing benefits and ownership rights, threaten the social and cultural sustainability of Alaska fisheries and fishing communities.
Today, more than three-quarters of Bristol Bay salmon permits are held by nonlocals. Kodiak’s Alutiiq villages have suffered an 84% decrease in the number of young people owning state fishing permits, and a 67% decrease in the number of state permits overall. In the southeast villages of Angoon, Hoonah, Hydaburg, and Kake, the number of young people owning state permits dropped sharply from 131 to only 17 between 1985-2013. These shifts have profound consequences for the health and well-being of Alaska fishery systems.
There is a lot of talk about Alaska’s graying fleet today. A central concern is how the future succession of fishery access rights (i.e., permits, quota) will exacerbate the already high levels of loss experienced in Alaska’s fishing communities. These concerns are well founded but it is worth remembering that our aging fleet is, at this moment, an incredible asset to the industry and our communities.
Alaska’s long-time fishermen serve as repositories of wisdom and much needed mentors. These fishermen are integral to intergenerational learning and ensuring multigenerational connections to place, culture and livelihood. The experiences and insights of veteran community-based fishermen are among the many tools that the next generation needs to be successful. This transfer of local and fishing knowledge, values and practices requires more than a willingness to ‘pass down’ knowledge. This transfer hinges on whether the next generation of fishermen has actual opportunity to enter into the commercial fishing industry and become owner-operators.
AMCC has been at the forefront of efforts to support the next generation of Alaska commercial fishermen. Through research on the graying of the fleet, national legislation such as the Young Fishermen’s Development Program, our active participation at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and programs like the Young Fishing Fellows Program and Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, we are dedicated to developing solutions to ensure the socioecological health of our fisheries.
As part of this effort, we have been watching and weighing in on HB 188, legislation that would enable the creation of Regional Fisheries Trusts in Alaska. AMCC supports HB 188, and the Regional Fisheries Trust concept, because it is a tool that will help ensure that the life history and age structure of Alaska fisheries remains balanced and diverse.
These regional trusts are highly controlled and will provide a path to local and independent ownership for Alaska residents; as a result, they will stem the outmigration of permits from our coastal communities. This is not an untested idea. Other fishing regions, including Maine, Massachusetts, Newfoundland and Norway have created similar tools that anchor access rights in fishing communities to bolster local economies and support new and rural fishermen in overcoming the sometimes impassable barriers to entry into commercial fisheries.
Regional Fisheries Trusts will not single handedly solve the problems affecting our fisheries and communities, but it is an important part of the suite of solutions that Alaska needs to be advancing. Trusts recreate the opportunity (e.g., diversity, history and structure) that is fundamental to the health of our fishing communities and help to recapture some of the benefits currently leaving Alaska in the form of rights, income and livelihood.
This post was inspired by recent conversations on a number of worthwhile texts, including Mountain in the Clouds by Bruce Brown, Poe et al. 2013, Pitcher et al. 2013 and several research articles authored by Courtney Carothers.
By Rachel Donkersloot
This is a tricky time of year. The calendar says we’ve just barely crossed into winter. Our minds and bodies, immersed in bouts of ice fog and subzero sunshine, know that the season’s astronomical start lags behind its existential arrival. What a rush to remember what winter really (I mean, really) feels like! I was in Naknek in late November for a stint of 35 below with wind chill.
Despite the biting cold and bad roads, we still had more than 20 community members show up to our Graying of the Fleet project meeting to discuss potential solutions to ensuring local fisheries participation in Bristol Bay. (I’m beaming right now, Bristol Bay, I love you).
Two weeks ago in Togiak, at another community meeting, our local host spent her afternoons at 13 below, pulling 35 pike from a frozen lake. Food. Sustenance. Fun. A childhood friend living in southeast has been busy making jam, jars and jars of beautiful jam, into the wee hours of the night. Old man winter can’t stop good living and the work in requires. My fellow Alaskans are riding bikes on frozen beaches, backcountry skiing, baking, napping, you name it. We excel at winter wellness.
Wellness and well-being are topics I’ve given much thought to this year, particularly the relationship between rural well-being and marine resource access. Well-being can be defined as “a state of being with others and the environment, which arises when human needs are met, when individuals and communities can act meaningfully to pursue their goals, and when individuals and communities enjoy a satisfactory quality of life” (Breslow et al. 2016; Armitage et al. 2012; McGregor 2008).
This fall, I helped to organized the Anchorage-based workshop: Long-term challenges to Alaska salmon and salmon dependent communities. Well-being emerged as a salient theme at the workshop with a panel and breakout session dedicated to the subject. Conference proceedings will be available here in early 2017.
The start of 2017 also marks the launch of another project that I am excited to lead with UAF researchers, Courtney Carothers and Jessica Black. Together, we are working with an exceptional team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, practitioners, and knowledge bearers to identify, develop, and refine indicators of well-being in the context of Alaska salmon systems.
Through this work we aim to better understand interdependencies between sociocultural and ecological systems, salmon-human connections and contributions to well-being in Alaska, and relationships between management and well-being. Informed by a diverse range of expertise, our workgroup will identify a conceptual framework for better integrating well-being concepts into the governance of Alaska salmon systems. You can read more about this project here, as well as others funded through the State of Alaska’s Salmon and People project.
See you in the new year. Be well.
Rachel Donkersloot is AMCC’s Working Waterfronts Program Director. She can be reached at 907.277.5357 or via email.
By Rachel Donkersloot, Working Waterfronts Program Director
It’s a great time of year. Mornings are cool, my newsfeed is filled with photos of buckets of wild blueberries, and recently I got stuck behind my first school bus of the season. We are headed toward fall. Onward. But what a summer!
Amidst the community festivals that AMCC attends throughout Alaska, I spent a week in St. John’s, Newfoundland where I presented on AMCC’s work at the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) Conference. Newfoundland captured a piece of my heart early on in life through books like The Shipping News, Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, and Lament for the Ocean. I presented two papers at the conference based on collaborative work I’m engaged in with Dr. Courtney Carothers of UAF and other members of the Graying of the Fleet project team. One of the big messages I wanted to bring to IMCC from Alaska was the need to understand fisheries as complex socio-ecological systems, and to recognize community dimensions as fundamental to the sustainability of healthy fishery systems.
In our paper on reconstructing stewardship, Courtney and I challenge the underlying assumptions driving fishery privatization processes, especially the validity of the ownership-promotes-stewardship thesis. We argue that the outflow of fishing rights from fishing communities, now a predictable outcome of ITQ management, is antithetical to the goals of resource governance and fishery conservation today. I underestimated the value of presenting our work to a room full conservation scientists, some of whom don’t fully see the ways in which conservation tools are felt onshore.
Newfoundland did not disappoint. I made it to Flatrock via Middle Cove. I hiked parts of the East Coast Trail and drank beer in the fishing village of Quidi Vidi. Every evening I walked along some rocky trail of the coastline from vista to vista, all with fellow Alaskan, Willow Moore, who was there to present on the great work being done by Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association. I met many men who used to be fishermen. People there still talk about what it was like before the cod crisis. In Alaska, we sometimes refer to fall as the start of ‘meeting season.’ As advocates, researchers, fishing organizations and fishery managers it’s a great time of year to reassess where we’re at and where we strive to be in managing fisheries and maintaining community access. Onward.
AMCC is excited to be returning to ComFish, Alaska’s largest fishery trade show. ComFish 2016 runs from March 31 – April 2 in Kodiak. See you on the Emerald Isle!
Fish Taco Night
What: Kodiak Jig Seafoods fish tacos
Where: Kodiak Island Brewery
When: Wednesday, March 30 from 4–7 pm
Kick off ComFish right! We’re celebrating Kodiak’s bounty with fish tacos featuring cod harvested by local small boat fishermen. We look forward to this popular event all year. See you at the brewery! $5 suggested donation.
What: “Right to Fish: Challenges and Opportunities in Alaska Fishing Access”
When: Thursday, March 31 from 10 am–12 pm
Where: Best Western Kodiak Inn Banquet Room
Join researchers, policymakers and fishermen for an engaging panel discussion about potential solutions for improving local fishing access for Alaskans. This event is free to the public. Complimentary fish chowder will be provided by Monk’s Rock.
Paula Cullenberg, Alaska Sea Grant
Paula is the director of the Alaska Sea Grant program, a partnership between NOAA and UAF that has focused on strong coastal communities and economies and healthy resources in Alaska for over 40 years. Her family are longtime setnetters in Bristol Bay.
Paula will present a summary of recommendations from a recent workshop called, Fisheries Access for Alaska – Charting the Future. More than 100 Alaskans from fishing communities across the state participated and discussed ways to ensure our fisheries continue to support Alaska into the future.
Courtney Carothers, Ph.D., University of Alaska Fairbanks
Courtney is an Associate Professor of Fisheries at UAF. She has been working closely with Kodiak communities for more than 10 years to study questions of access and equity in Alaska’s fisheries.
Courtney will present the initial results from “The Graying of the Fleet and Alaska’s Next Generation of Fishermen,” a research project conducted in Kodiak and Bristol Bay based on more than 130 interviews and 800 surveys with local youth.
Hannah Heimbuch, Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Hannah Heimbuch is a third-generation commercial fisherman from Homer, Alaska. She fishes salmon and halibut in the Gulf of Alaska, and works as the Community Fisheries Organizer for Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
Hannah will discuss the development of The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network. The network aims to connect and empower young fishermen to become the next generation of fishing leaders in Alaska—in business, policy and stewardship.
Duncan Fields, North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Raised in Kodiak, Duncan and his family have fished salmon in Uyak Bay each summer since 1960. In the early 80’s Duncan attended law school and returned to Kodiak to work for fishermen: first on the Exxon Valdez litigation and then on regulatory issues. He was appointed to the Legislative Salmon task force in 2002, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board in 2003 and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board in 2004 and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) in 2007 where he still serves.
Duncan will present a conceptual framework and application of Alternative 3 in the Council’s current Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management motion.
Full details on ComFish 2016 here.
Alaska has one of the most productive commercial fishing economies on the planet. More than 5 billion pounds of seafood were pulled from the waters surrounding Alaska in 2012. This world-class catch generated $1.7 billion in exvessel value and earned Alaska the title of top U.S. seafood producer. We provide more than 55 percent of U.S. domestic seafood production. That’s nearly four times more seafood than the next-largest seafood producing state.
Clearly, there is much to celebrate, but first place doesn’t make us impervious to crisis. Major declines in Chinook returns, shrinking halibut biomass, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, regime shifts, skyrocketing fuel prices, ocean acidification; we have weathered our share of disasters and will continue to combat big challenges. But not all crises come in like a lion. Some arrive quietly, like the steady aging of our fleet.
In 2013, the average age of Alaska fishery permit holders was 49.7 years, up 10 years since 1980. Our rural fishing communities, and our state at large, have yet to feel the full impact of the ‘graying of the fleet,’ but the absence of young Alaskan fishermen filling the ranks is an important harbinger of the crisis to come. Between 1980 and 2013, the number of Alaska residents under age 40 holding fishing permits has fallen from 38.5 percent to 17.3 percent of the total number of permits.
Some communities have been particularly hard hit. In Southeast, Angoon suffered a 90 percent loss of permit holders under age 40 between 1990 and 2013 — a decline from 20 to only one permit holder remaining. Pelican has followed suit, with the number of young fishermen falling from 21 to two in that time frame. On the other side of the state, in the Bristol Bay region, the fishing community of Egegik finds itself without a single permit holder under age 40. In 1990, Egegik was home to 20 permit holders younger than 40.
Although this problem poses a particular threat to the sustainability of our rural fishing communities, it is not necessarily a rural phenomenon. Larger communities and regional hubs have not fared better. The number of young fishermen in Cordova has declined from 191 to 77, a near 60 percent loss from 1990 to 2013. Juneau is also home to more than 70 young fishermen, which appears promising until you compare it to the 130 living there in 1990. Bethel has also seen a more than 60 percent decline (from 116 to 45). Even Anchorage, our largest ‘fishing community’ if you will, has seen a near 50 percent drop in young permit holders in the last 23 years, from 267 to 137.
Wasilla is one of the few communities in-state that is seeing the under-40 age category grow. Since 1990, Wasilla has seen the ranks of young fishermen swell slightly from 46 to 63. Chugiak and Eagle River are also holding strong with stable numbers of 10 and 21 permit holders respectively.
The lack of young Alaskans entering commercial fisheries is compounded by another troubling trend, the rise in nonresident permit ownership in some fisheries. Together these concerning trends threaten the long-term viability of our coastal communities and state. As we work to better understand the problem, we must also work toward effective solutions. Our aging fleet means many of the rights to Alaska fisheries will change hands in the next decade. What will this transfer mean for the well-being of coastal Alaska and those who call it home? The steady decline of local and young fishermen participating in Alaska fisheries is a mounting crisis, but it is not an inevitable one. The good news is that the Walker-Mallott Administration gets this and is laying the groundwork to address this problem.
Now is the time for coastal Alaskans, rural leaders, young fishermen, the legislature and the governor’s office to work collectively to broaden and bolster the mechanisms needed to better facilitate entry and support the intergenerational transfer of fishing rights. This is how we will sustain Alaska coastal communities and livelihoods. This is how we will ensure that the billions of pounds and dollars that make Alaska fisheries the envy of everywhere continue to benefit Alaskans. That’s why we fought for statehood; that’s what our constitution demands. We need all boots on deck for this one.
Much of my perspective, direction and good fortune in life can be traced back to my upbringing in Naknek. For someone who has never fished commercially, it was all about the fish. Every job and all revelry governed by the salmon run and the tide. Life in that little town brought endless discovery of old buildings, new trails and increasingly creative ways of trying to get away with something. Anything. So wrapped up in each season, I barely grasped the importance of home in the larger seafood economy. Turns out we’re kind of a big deal. Bristol Bay is one of Alaska’s richest commercial fisheries and provides roughly one-third of all of Alaska’s salmon harvest earnings. The region accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s wild salmon harvest. The best part is the resource and the wealth and well-being that it provides is self-renewing.
Here’s a few more numbers though. Since the inception of limited entry in 1975, local permit ownership has declined from 1,372 to 707. This loss stems from permit transfers to non-locals, but also and increasingly from the out-migration of permit holders from the region. Overall, the region has suffered a net loss of 197 permits since 1975 due to the relocation of permit holders. At the same time, non-resident permit holders have added 260 to their ranks through permit transfers and another 208 permits through migration. Trends toward non-resident permit ownership are exacerbated by a lack of young people entering the industry, a problem commonly referred to as the ‘graying of the fleet.’
Overall, the mean age of a Bristol Bay drift permit holder has only increased from 45.5 years to 47.5 years between 1975 and 2013. Not too bad. The mean age of non-resident drift permit holders has actually decreased since 1975, from 48.3 years to 46.9 years in 2013. This has not been the case for our local drift permit holders, who have seen an increase in mean age from 42.7 years to 50.6 years.
As local permit holders approach retirement age, the potential impacts of succession of access rights on rural livelihoods and coastal economies becomes an increasingly pressing management issue. A lack of local young people entering the industry coupled with the loss of local access and participation in the fishery is disconcerting for many reasons. For starters, young people bring vibrancy, creativity and innovation to a place and an industry. We need engaged young people to help make our communities better, solve the problems we face today, and carry on the ever-changing daily, seasonal and annual practices that give life to local culture and community. Secondly, we know that there is a powerful inter-relationship between commercial and subsistence fisheries and the crucial role that harvesting wild foods plays in maintaining cultural traditions, social identities and food security in rural Alaska. Studies continue to show that households with fishing permits are often also the households that are high producers of subsistence foods and the most important providers in food sharing networks. The intimate entangling of local fishing jobs with these dimensions of local life means that loss of local commercial access extends beyond earned income.
Right now, across Alaska, there are many, many organizations, institutions and communities working to find solutions to sustained local fisheries participation in coastal Alaska. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation offers an incredible permit loan program that is helping to put fishing permits back into local hands. The University of Alaska is working closely with state agencies and others to create and implement the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan intended to better prepare Alaskans to meet our maritime workforce needs. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council recently launched the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, designed to connect young fishermen across the state and identify potential solutions to the specific challenges they face. We are also helping to lead a collaborative research project which focuses on barriers to entry and the ‘graying of the fleet’ in Bristol Bay and Kodiak Island fishing communities. Finally, last summer I spoke with local fishermen in Naknek who had purposely hired local youth, some of whom were entirely green, as crew. Collectively, these efforts are operating at varying scales to create opportunity, enhance inter-generational access and strengthen local participation in local fisheries. This is what makes communities resilient. The problems underlying and arising from the exodus of fishing rights and wealth from our fishing communities are complex, multi-dimensional and diverse. Keeping our communities as strong and healthy as the salmon run takes a lot of work. Ensuring local participation in local fisheries is only one part of what needs to be a multi-faceted approach to enhancing rural livelihoods and local well-being, but it is a vital one.