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Conservation and training vital to keep Alaska fisheries strong

  • Author: Jacquie Foss
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 19, 2017
  • Published December 19, 2017

I wasn't ready to have kids until my husband and I started hand trolling together. Watching the other families on deck running gear or anchored in the evening and playing on a beach broke something loose inside of me. This is what I wanted. I wanted a boat, kids, a life out on the water. So that winter we bought a fixer-upper steel boat and a power troll permit. We jumped.

We jumped knowing the basics of trolling and seamanship. There was so much to learn, especially as someone who didn't grow up fishing — supervising crew, keeping up with technological updates, and running the business end of things. Putting hooks in the water was the easy part.

Fishing has always required knowledge that's tough to get as a newcomer, but getting started now is a lot more complicated than it was even a few decades ago. Fishing permits are tens of thousands of dollars at the least, and enough fishing quota to get started now costs more than a college education. Fishing regulations are increasingly complicated, and keeping up with policy decisions can be daunting.

Jacquie Foss aboard her boat, the F/V Axel. (Alyssa Russell / Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association)

But help is on the way. This fall, Alaska's congressional delegation introduced the Young Fishermen's Development Act to the House and the Senate. This act would establish a Young Fishermen's Development Fund to support education and training opportunities for young fishermen throughout the country. The program is modeled after the Department of Agriculture's successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher program, which has helped hundreds of young people start their own businesses. Currently no comparable program exists for young fishermen. If passed, funding will come from NOAA's asset forfeiture fund: Fines paid for breaking fishing regulations will assist new operations with getting started on the right foot. I applaud our delegation for providing this essential support to our young fishermen's future.

Of course, the most important ingredient to a healthy fishing business is access to productive fish stocks. We depend on those managing our fisheries to commit to conservation first. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the primary law governing fisheries around the country, is currently undergoing reauthorization by Congress. Unfortunately, a very vocal segment of the recreational fishing sector is pushing for exemptions to conservation requirements. Overfishing by any sector compromises everyone's future. I am calling on our delegation to hold all sectors accountable and to protect both the fish and the future of Alaska's valuable fisheries.

We have two kids now and they are learning how to fish. My son, who is 5 years old, already knows how to hold the ice chute, and my 2-year-old daughter likes to steer. When they grow up, they may decide not to be fishermen. But if they do want this life, I want the opportunity to be available to them. I want them to have support and I want there to be fish for them to catch. That means standing strong on the conservation provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and investing in programs to support young fishermen.

Jacquie Foss and her husband fish in Southeast Alaska.

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