This week, the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC) applauded President Biden for signing the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Appropriations Omnibus Package. The $1.5 trillion omnibus package included crucial language encouraging the National Sea Grant Program under NOAA to prioritize the Young Fishermen’s Development Program, authorized by the Young Fishermen’s Development Act (Public Law 116-289), enacted at the end of the 116th Congress, on January 5, 2021.
“This is a watershed moment,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director for the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “For the first time, the U.S. will prioritize the education and training for America’s young fishermen and women at a national level. We thank our Congressional leaders— Senators Sullivan, Murkowski, and Markey and Representative Young—for continuing to champion and advance the Young Fishermen’s Development Program and salute President Biden for securing this bi-partisan success.”
“Commercial fishing has a rich history and vital place in our economy,” said Stephanie Sykes, Program and Outreach Coordinator for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “To continue this legacy, we must support the next generation through considerable barriers including complex regulations, high cost of entry, and fluctuating markets. We applaud Congress for funding the Young Fishermen’s Development Program, which will be instrumental to new and beginning fishermen navigating the industry.”
Even before needing to navigate the changes and consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were immense challenges for new commercial fishing entrants, including high cost of entry, financial risks, and limited entry-level opportunities. Since the onset COVID-19, those challenges have been amplified as the ongoing pandemic continues to disrupt America’s commercial fishermen and fishing communities and jeopardize our country’s food security and supply chains.
According to Marissa Wilson, Executive Director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, “There is a great need, highlighted in tumultuous times like these, to continue the tradition of weaving people and place together in reciprocity. Fishermen who harvest with deep knowledge and respect are an essential part of abundant coastal ecosystems. This funding is a needed investment in local food systems along thousands of miles of coastline; a true victory.”
The Young Fishermen’s Development Program is a workforce development grant program to educate, train, and mentor young and beginning commercial fishermen.
The underlying law authorizes $2 million in funding for the program every year for the next six years. Eligible applicants for the grant program include state Sea Grant programs, state, local, and tribal organizations, community-based NGOs, fishermen’s cooperatives or associations, colleges, and universities.
According to Ben Martens, Executive Director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, “The U.S. commercial fishing industry is a vital component of our food system. Fishermen on every U.S. coast from Maine to Alaska strive to provide sustainable, healthy food to our communities and the nation. We must invest in the next generation of harvesters who are facing unprecedented challenges as they try to build viable small businesses in coastal communities. Thank you to the entire Maine delegation, including appropriators Rep. Pingree and Sen. Collins, for ensuring the Young Fishermen's Development Act remains a priority and for being such strong supporters of Maine's working waterfront communities."
The Young Fishermen’s Development Act has been a top priority for the FCC since 2015. Over the years, more than fifty young fishermen representing FCC members from every U.S. coast have traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the Act. After enactment, the next step was for Congress to authorize funding through the appropriations process to implement the program. The FCC is thrilled this next, critical step has been completed.
According to Eric Brazer, Deputy Director for the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, “Commercial fishing has a long tradition and rich culture in this country, spanning all coastlines. As the landscape of this industry evolves, it’s vital to provide training and pathways for the next generation to be set up for success and continue providing fresh, sustainable seafood to dinner plates across the country. We thank Congress for prioritizing workforce development and training for the young fishermen who will be the face of this industry’s future.”
The FCC is grateful that this program and the future of the commercial fishing industry has remained a priority for our bipartisan, bicameral congressional champions. We look forward to continuing working with them, NOAA Sea Grant, and our partners to ensure the Young Fishermen’s Development Program is started this year. This is a proud and important moment for U.S. fishing communities and future generations of commercial fishermen on every coast.