A bill that would help the next generation of fishermen enter the business passed a major hurdle last week when the U.S. Senate passed the measure by a voice vote.
Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the bill is fashioned after a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to aid new farmers and ranchers. Among the steps the legislation calls for is the establishment of competitive grants at state, local, tribal, and regional levels; the creation of a mentorship program that partners new fishermen with retirees and vessel owners; and the financial support for training and education in such areas as sustainable fishing practices and proper business protocols.
“The sustainability and endurance of this vital industry, which employs more people in Alaska than any other, depends on up-and-coming qualified fishermen,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Helping the next generation of Alaskans enter our fisheries will help ensure Alaska remains the superpower of seafood.”
The bill enjoys bipartisan support. Democratic co-sponsors include U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Doug Jones of Alabama, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Republican U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine also co-sponsored the bill, as did U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent.
Markey said in a statement that while fishing has been a trade for centuries, younger individuals face challenges in getting into the business.
“Our legislation will help ensure that our fishing industry continues to attract and grow future generations of young fishermen,” Markey said. “More young men and women will be pushing off the dock into new careers and fully participating in the economy of their communities.”
While the bill has cleared the Senate, it must also pass the House before Congress adjourns for the year. If it does not, the bill will need to be reintroduced when the new Congress meets for its two-year term starting in January.
Still, Senate passage was celebrated by advocates who have pushed for its passage for the last three years. They believe the USD 2 million (EUR 1.7 million) in grant funding will help an industry where the average age of a worker is 55.
“Commercial fishing is a vital industry to the American culture and economy, and with the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, we can rest easier knowing there are resources available to provide training and education for the next generation of fishermen that will help feed this great country,” the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance said in a statement.
Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan