Want to learn the fishing life? Sign on for Crew Training by March 30!

Deckhand apprenticeships teach young fishermen the right ways to catch and care for the fishery resources.

by | February 6, 2023

Filed Under Training | Uncategorized

Aims to get more young ‘boots on deck’ in AK where average fishing age is 50

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), a Sitka-based fishing group and partner organization Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT), are seeking applicants for the Crew Training Program. 

Now in its 8th year, the program aims to provide young people an opportunity to gain experience in, as well as an understanding of commercial fishing and its importance to supporting coastal communities. 

Photo credit: ALFA

“We provide an opportunity for young folks to either do a short term experience or long term,” explained Natalie Sattler, ALFA program and communications director. “Traditionally, a lot of our apprentices or crew member trainers are on longliners and trollers, but we do offer a shorter term experience, maybe on a gillnetter or a seiner, maybe just for a day or even a week to just see how that goes. And last year, we actually had a couple of recent high school graduates who went out on a tender for the season.”  

Since 2015, over 100 apprentices have been trained and placed on local fishing vessels in Southeast Alaska. This crew training program is a way to attract younger entrants into an industry where the average fisherman’s age in Alaska is over 50. 

The Crew Training Program aims to 1) provide young people with an interest in pursuing a career in commercial fishing an opportunity to gain experience; and, 2) give young people the opportunity to better understand commercial fishing, the lifestyle it provides, and its important role in supporting coastal communities. All while providing a safe, well-guided, entry level experience.

 In 2023, ALFA and ASFT hope to place several apprentices with local and regional skippers and enhance local employment opportunities. “With support from numerous funders, we have been fortunate to expand the program to include more boats, crew, and communities,” said Linda Behnken, ALFA executive director. “Our goal is to provide young people with a safe introduction to Alaska’s fisheries and to share the curriculum we have developed through our program with fishing groups in other parts of the State and country.”

Photo credit: ALFA

“We have shared a lot of our supplier resources and tools with other organizations,” added Sattler who has spoken with interested people at Bristol Bay. “And we’ve shared our resources with Sea Grant. With our funding and grants, part of our requirement to is to share these resources and try to get it going in other communities as well.”

Since its inception, the program has received funding from the Edgerton Foundation, the City and Borough of Sitka, the Alaska Community Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). “The work funded by these grants will result in improved management that strengthens the welfare of fishermen and local communities, promoting healthy fish stocks and healthy fisheries,” the funders said in a press release.

Sattler said many crew members return each year to fish with the same skippers, such as longtime fisherman Eric Jordan who helped spearhead the deck hand apprenticeships. He has brought over 50 young people aboard his troller the I Gotta as part of the training program. While on the water, Jordan teaches the intricacies of commercial fishing and demonstrates sustainable fishing practices to encourage a strong conservation ethic. He believes the future depends on new fishermen learning the right ways to care for the fish.

Skipper Eric Jordan of Sitka Photo credit: NPR

“Finding crew with some experience who love fishing in Alaska is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole. One of the things this program provides is the taste of it. So deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” 

Eric jordan, skipper of the f/v ‘i gotta’

The crew training application period is currently open and will close March 30.  Applicants must be 18 years or older to qualify. It’s free to apply. Learn more HERE. Contact Natalie Sattler at 907-738-1286 or program.director@alfafish.org

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.


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