Training program for young fishermen takes off in Cape Cod

Published on
May 11, 2023

In the U.S. state of Massachusetts, a new cadre of aspiring fishermen in Cape Cod is being recruited to reverse the graying of the fleet.

In New England, the average age of groundfish and lobster captains is 55, according to the New England Young Fishermen’s Alliance. A training program offered by the nonprofit Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is focused on bringing younger people into local fisheries to combat that problem.

The Fishermen Training program offered by Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance links new or beginner fishermen to local fishing fleets, and offers hands-on training.

According to Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance Program and Outreach Coordinator Stephanie Sykes, there was a time when those participating in the training might have been focused almost exclusively on learning about fishing for species like cod and haddock, but the dynamics of being a successful groundfisherman in New England have shifted.

“I love hearing stories from the old timers about cod and haddock, [but] now, our gillnet fleets tend to target skates and dogfish,” Sykes said. “There are a few boats that still groundfish, but their business is usually diversified.”

Groundfishing remains part of the training, but it is one small part of the larger equation for Cape Cod fishermen, according to Sykes, a commercial fisher who used to gillnet for groundfish but nowadays, focuses more on conch and black sea bass.

“One of the things I’ve seen over the past five years is a pivot to really strongly supporting and encouraging the diversification of a fishing business, to withstand a pandemic, market gluts, and other things,” Sykes said. “Diversification creates a more resilient fishing business.”

Reporting by Caroline Losneck

Photo courtesy of Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance

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