Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit offers knowledge and networking

11/11/2013

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NR: SG-2013/NR252

Over 200 people from 45 ports are represented at the Alaska Young Fisherman’s Summit. Click image for larger version [2400 x 1800 px; 1.1 MB].

Anchorage, Alaska—Tracey Nuzzi just wrapped up a second year of commercial fishing on her own boat in the Copper River and Prince William Sound gillnet fisheries. She hadn’t always planned on a fishing career. Nuzzi spent her early childhood in Southeast Alaska, but was living in California in 2008 when her father suggested she visit Cordova for the shorebird festival. Her uncle and father were purse seining for the regional salmon hatcheries there. When she arrived, her father immediately threw a welder in her hands to help build a boat. She never saw the birds.

Nuzzi decided to stay in Cordova, where she got a job on a local fishing boat. Two years ago she and her brother bought their own boat and permit. “I fell in love with working and living on boats,” she said. “Fishing is really cool because you get to do that. But there are responsibilities, too. A couple of guys in town asked, why weren’t you at the last Board of Fish meeting? So I thought, well, maybe I could join a policy board but maybe I need a little more information first.”

Nuzzi signed up for the fourth Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit (AYFS) in 2012 to better understand what the commercial fishing life entails. Organized by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the summit brings together young commercial fishermen to learn about fishing business and fisheries management from experts.

“I’d been focused on engines and hydraulics,” Nuzzi said, “but while at the summit I began to realize that in order to have a season, I also needed to pay attention to the political and financial factors. I didn’t know that when I was just trying to get a permit and go fishing.”

Cordova MAP agent Torie Baker helps AYFS attendees understand fishing business concepts. Click image for larger version [2400 x 1386 px; 991 KB].

More than 200 fishermen have participated in the four summits since 2007. This year’s summit, the fifth, will be held in Anchorage, December 10–12. Participants will get three days of training on the shore-based aspects of running a fishing operation. Topics include marketing, business management, the fisheries regulatory process and how science impacts fisheries management. It is also an opportunity for commercial fishermen to talk about and collaborate on fisheries issues they are facing.

“It lessens the anonymity of various gear groups,” said Jason Shull, a lifelong Haines resident and former biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who also attended the 2012 summit. Shull now operates a gillnet boat in Lynn Canal, in Southeast Alaska. “After you’ve met people from different regions, even if you don’t run into those people again it sort of reduces the faceless boat out there. We realize we are all in this together.”

“AYFS has drawn participants from 45 different Alaska ports and communities—reflecting, I think, the importance and variety of fisheries in the state. What seems to meld this group together is their passion for the fishing lifestyle, their communities and the health and protection of the resources,” said Torie Baker, summit co-coordinator and Marine Advisory Program agent based in Cordova.

Another participant from 2012, Lindsey Aspelund, became a Bristol Bay setnet permit holder when she was 11 years old. “My mom had a setnet site, and my dad had a driftnet operation in the Naknek area,” Aspelund said. “I’m now trying to purchase my own skiff and a four-wheeler for my own operation.” Aspelund, who was born in Naknek, currently lives in Washington state. While Alaska state loan programs are not available to her, she got a clearer idea about options through the AYFS session on drafting a business plan.

The next generation networks with established leaders to learn. Click image for larger version [2400 x 1551 px; 1.1 MB].

Sunny Rice, AYFS co-coordinator and Marine Advisory Program agent based in Petersburg, said, “We look to established fishermen and industry professionals for most of the instruction at the summit. We may have an active fisherman who also sits on a regulatory board, or a fisherman who is also an accountant teaching about keeping fishing business books. Participants get to network with each other, but also with all these seasoned pros.”

November 26 is the deadline for early registration in the 2013 Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit. Learn more about the summit and see the full agenda at the AYFS website.

The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit is sponsored by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. Additional support is from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Princess Cruises/Holland America, North Pacific Research Board, Northrim Bank, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, International Halibut Commission, Pacific Star Seafoods, and Groundfish Forum.

As Tracey Nuzzi reflected on last year’s summit, she said, “A lot of fishermen come and talk to you. That was the coolest thing. At AYFS, we got to meet the real people. It wasn’t like a classroom. It was like you’re entering into the adult side of your life. You get to be a student, but it’s not hypothetical.”

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.