Study Looks at Next Generation of Fishermen

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Brianna Gibbs/KMXT
Kodiak is known worldwide as a fishing hub and in recent years has made a name for itself in the world of academic research. This summer the two are combining as one local grad student takes a closer look at the next generation of fishermen through her work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Graduate student Danielle Ringer was born in Homer, where her family was heavily involved in the fishing industry, and moved to Kodiak a number of years ago to work for Fish and Game. Since then she’s broadened her resume with work at the Alutiiq Museum and Kodiak Harbormaster’s Office, but decided to plunge back into her education this summer and study what she calls the “graying of the fleet.”
“So basically the legislature has put out a call of concerns that are kind of addressing all Alaska coastal communities and one of those has been the graying of the fleet, which talks about in all Alaska commercial fisheries, that permit age, that number of the age of someone holding a commercial fishing license, that permit has been getting kind of up there. So the average age right now is 47 across the state.”  She said the age of folks with ownership roles is getting higher, and her research focuses on who the next generation of fishermen will be as some of those long-time boat owners and permit holders look toward retirement.
Ringer said the study, which is funded by the North Pacific Research Board and Alaska Sea Grant, is interview-based and being conducted both in Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Ringer was hired as the research assistant here in Kodiak and said she’s hoping to speak with anyone and everyone involved in fisheries.
“Because I think that this issue is so important to coastal communities, and Kodiak especially that I want to make sure that anyone who is interested in it and has something to say bout it is able to do that. From the green horns on deck who maybe just showed up to Kodiak from the Lower 48 who have no idea what fishing is – I’d love to talk to them to maybe the younger or new entrants into ownership levels – really interested in that, kind of getting off the deck and moving into the top house. And of course the guys that have been fishing forever. I think that’s really valuable to get all of those different perspectives about getting a career in fishing.”            The project started in May, and Ringer said she will be conducting interviews into the fall as fishermen wrap up their season and have more time on their hands. From there, she and her research associates will go through all the interviews, code them and ultimately create a survey for high school students in Kodiak and Bristol Bay.
“And we really want to get high school students’ ideas about what is a job in fishing – is that something people are interested in, is that something people see as a viable option. So I’m excited for that and we’ll be doing that survey probably next year.”
She said she hopes the study will inspire more research in coastal fishing communities across the state, and even result in positive policy changes to help address the graying of the fleet and ensure future pathways to fishing careers.
“As several fisheries are privatized that certainly limits new opportunities for new entrants – like crab, like the halibut IFQs, like they’re talking about possibly doing with the federal Pollock. So as these things happen and we have fisheries management evolving I think the state and myself personally are very interested in how that actually affects new fishermen getting into it.”
Ringer said that privatization may be the future of fishing, but it certainly has implications for those entering the industry and her goal is to understand what those might be.
To do that, she has been interviewing dozens of fishermen this summer, asking about their backgrounds, barriers to the industry, views on fisheries management and Kodiak as a fishing community. She said the interviews typically last 30-60 minutes and can be conducted in and out of her office, or over the phone. The interviews are anonymous and won’t be shared publicly. So far, she said she’s had a lot of positive feedback and successful interviews with members of the fishing community, and hopes that will continue this fall. I’m Brianna Gibbs.

For those wanting to take part in the next generation of fishermen study, you can contact Ringer at djringer@alaska.edu

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