A Fire in Their Bellies: My Experience at the 2020 Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit

Updated: Jul 20

“The resources provided at that Summit proved invaluable to me, and looking back I realize that that experience truly validated my decision to continue commercial fishing in Alaska. It served as the catalyst to my involvement in not only Cook Inlet fisheries management and policy, but to my future as an activist for salmon conservation issues.” GEORGIE HEAVERLEY – COOK INLET DRIFTER

Ric, Georgie, and Erin.

I attended my first Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit in Anchorage in 2017. I graduated from college earlier that year, returning to Kenai each summer to fish with my dad and brother. I was at a crossroads in my life at that time, unsure if I would leave Alaska to pursue a career in the west coast tech industry or remain in Alaska, drift gillnetting Cook Inlet with my family and fighting for the future of our highly politicized fishery.

The resources provided at that Summit proved invaluable to me, and looking back I realize that that experience truly validated my decision to continue commercial fishing in Alaska. It served as the catalyst to my involvement in not only Cook Inlet fisheries management and policy, but to my future as an activist for salmon conservation issues.

I bought a Cook Inlet drift permit at the beginning of 2019, finally becoming a stakeholder in the fishery that has been in my family for over 50 years. Buying a permit is only a piece in the journey to form your own small business on the ocean, and I knew I would need to eventually form a plan for the future purchase of a boat, how I would maintain my vessel, how to run my crew, and everything that venture entails.

The 8th annual Young Fishermen’s Summit was held in Juneau this year, coinciding with the start of the state legislative session. The Summit, organized by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, provides the opportunity for young fishermen to gain the information and expertise required to manage a career in the commercial fishing industry. The event provides information related to buying and financing a boat and permit, how to expand your fishing operation through creating a business plan, managing record keeping and taxes, safety and training, direct marketing, and navigating the federal and state fisheries regulatory process. Most importantly, the Summit provides the opportunity to network with industry professionals and fellow fishermen from around the state.

This year’s keynote speaker was Jim Hubbard. Jim has been fishing in Alaska in some form or another for over 45 years, and has been direct marketing seafood for the past 30 years. Not only does Jim have experience in multiple fisheries, he has been involved in fisheries management and policy, both on the federal and on the state level. Jim spoke to us about his extensive experience in Alaskan fisheries, how the fisherman lifestyle can take a toll on your family, the importance of properly managing your finances, and how passion for the work you do is one of driving forces behind success.

The first day of the Summit focused on the business aspects of commercial fishing. Industry representatives from investment and banking companies, insurance and accounting firms spoke to the particulars of financing your operation and the financial decisions you have to make along the way, such as securing insurance and proper tax preparation. Representatives from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the McDowell Group, and even a seafood retailer from the Pacific Northwest gave an overview of how Alaska fits into the domestic and global seafood market. The day ended with a fun and informal reception at a local brewery, where participants could continue to network with the speakers from that day.

AYFS 2020 visit to Auke Bay Laboratory

The second day provided an introduction to the fisheries regulatory process, both in the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC). ADF&G staff were there to answer questions along with John Jensen, who happens to be a member of both the Board of Fish and the NPFMC. Receiving this information was particularly important for me, as the Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting begins the first week of February. Aside from discussing how to participate in the regulatory process, there were speakers there to provide information about getting involved with your fishery’s trade organization, regional seafood development associations, harbor boards, and ADF&G advisory committees.

That afternoon Summit attendees took a trip to the Auke Bay Laboratory, a facility that conducts scientific research on marine ecosystems, including stock assessments of several species of fish in Alaska. This research is provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the NPFMC, and other related organizations to help these entities properly manage our fisheries. We watched presentations about ocean acidification and climate change, and then got to tour the genetics lab and see other research projects being done. It was particularly interesting to see the fisheries regulatory process come full circle: how decision makers receive the science and information they need to make informed management decisions.

AYFS 2020 Attendees at the Twisted Fish Reception

That evening there was a reception at the Twisted Fish, complete with a hearty spread of appetizers and full bar. Legislators from Alaska’s coastal communities were invited to attend, so Summit participants could have the opportunity to meet and network with our representatives, both in small group settings and one-on-one. I met several representatives from the Kenai Peninsula, where I grew up, and got to touch base with many I had met before.

The following morning we walked over to the Capitol building, where we first met with a panel of coastal legislators including Ben Stevens, Chief of Staff to Governor Dunleavy. We then broke into groups to meet our local representatives and then got to sit in on some of the House Fisheries Committee meeting. Myself and three other fishermen from the Anchorage area met with Senator Mia Costello, where we discussed issues we felt were most important to our industry, including the importance of funding the Alaska Marine Highway and how vital it is for our coastal communities, the Cook Inlet east side setnet buyback program, and generally advocating for the future of the commercial fishing in Alaska.

After meeting legislators we had the choice to participate in one of three different workshops: buying and selling vessels and the maintenance required of them, marine safety issues, and a mock Board of Fish exercise. I chose to attend the Board of Fish workshop, as I am actively involved in preparing for the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February. Those of us who participated got to practice giving public testimony and even acted as Board members ourselves to learn about the deliberation process.

“I think that’s the perfect way to sum the experience at the Young Fishermen’s Summit in Juneau: we move forward with pride for our way of life, a plan for business endeavors, motivation to get involved, and to not let that “fire in our bellies” burn out.” GEORGIE HEAVERLEY

At the end of the day, attendees had the opportunity to say a few words about their experience at the Summit. A drifter from Cordova stood up and with sincerity told us all that before now he had never been involved in advocating for his fishery, had never paid attention to the policy decisions being made about it. He continued on by saying he now plans to get involved, that he feels like he has “a fire in his belly,” and he’s ready to join the effort. I think that’s the perfect way to sum the experience at the Young Fishermen’s Summit in Juneau: we move forward with pride for our way of life, a plan for business endeavors, motivation to get involved, and to not let that “fire in our bellies” burn out.

The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit once again proved invaluable for me. I strongly encourage any commercial fishermen that are starting out in the industry, who have big dreams to run their own operation, and who want to get involved but don’t know how to attend this conference. The people you meet there are those you will maintain relationships with for the duration of your career and beyond, and those you will stand side by side with as you advocate for our fishing future. Because that’s exactly what we are – the future of this industry. And if we don’t fight for it, who will?

AMCC and AKFN are proud to have sponsored Georgie’s trip to Juneau last month and look forward to working with her and her new friends as they advocate for themselves and their communities in the years ahead! Please find more information on Sea Grant and future Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summits here.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram

© 2020 by Alaska Marine Conservation Council