Graying of the Fleet pic

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers Danielle Ringer, left, and Courtney Carothers are asking what Kodiak youth think about potential commercial fishing careers. Drew Herman photo

A group of researchers are studying the effects of the so-called “graying of the fleet,” the aging of fishermen without as many younger ones coming along behind, in the Kodiak archipelago and Bristol Bay, and the results of dozens of interviews are currently being catalogued.

On Wednesday at the Baranov Museum, Danielle Ringer, a University of Alaska Fairbanks master’s student, presented the first preliminary themes emerging from the 52 interviews she has done with Kodiakans since the project started.

At the top of the list are uncertainty, risk and money, Ringer said. It’s also more difficult for people to diversify by fishing in many different fisheries and expand their “fishing portfolio,” as Ringer calls it.

“As a young fisherman starting out, as a current fisherman working on your business, you need to try to work your boat year-round,” Ringer said. “What I’m hearing from some more experienced guys is that when they got in in the past, you could get in for relatively little money and could go out on an OK boat and you could make a lot of money. You could support yourself and you could fish year-round and piece-meal it together and have a really nice life and now, that seems a lot harder and that might be financially not possible for people.”

The team will be giving surveys to teenage students at the end of April and in May to gauge their thoughts on fishing.

“First, there’s a section about fishing in your community and then there’s just a community section and thoughts on living in your town and then a little bit of background on each person,” Ringer said. “They are all anonymous, but I think it will be really great to actually get information of what 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds think about their fishing communities and opportunities within the fishing industry and maritime industry as well.”

Ringer and her associates, including another graduate student in Bristol Bay and UAF professor Courtney Carothers, are planning to not just document the problem through the multi-year study, but also suggest policy changes on the state, national and international level that could potentially slow the graying issue.

The Alaska Legislature, in 2012, passed a resolution recognizing the graying of the fleet and calling for continued work to remove barriers to younger people entering fisheries.

Ringer said the average age of fishing permit-holders in Alaska currently is 50, about 10 years higher than it was in the 80s.

Over the summer, Ringer will be transcribing the interviews she’s done and organizing them by tagging different parts of the interviews with key words so it will be easier to analyze the interviews later.

At the end of the project, the research team hopes to understand the issues that cause graying of the fleet and document barriers to entry to fisheries.

“At the end, hopefully we’ll have these recommendations for policy responses,” Ringer said. “We’re doing literature review of policies all over the world right now, so we’ll see what might fit in our communities.”

Ringer’s presentation was part of the Baranov Museum’s History Speaks lecture.

The series continues with a lecture on preservation of Alutiiq and Russian liturgical materials on April 29 at 7 p.m. at the museum.

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