Getting to know the fishermen and crabbers of the Columbia-Pacific region is a lesson in respect for tradition, the environment and the future. No one has a better sense for how humanity’s wellbeing is bound up with that of the natural world. This is a major reason why we all should advocate for success in the efforts described in our Thursday story about bringing up the next generation of fishermen.
This is a vital and often lucrative occupation — one deeply ingrained in local culture and history — in which job openings have become difficult to fill. Our story about the “graying of the fleet” described many of the key reasons for this trend:
• In a time of near full employment on the coast, fishing competes with industries that offer safer, more comfortable, less seasonal work.
• Most commercial fishing boats are, in effect, small businesses in a time of tighter financing and regulations.
• The costs of gear, permitting, insurance and regulatory compliance all have increased faster than the ex-vessel price of most fisheries products.
• Though still regarded locally as an honorable — in some ways even prestigious — career, commercial fishing gets much bad press. The whole industry is tarnished when word spreads about indiscriminate overfishing by foreign vessels, whale entanglements, and resource-allocation fights like the one that resulted in banning gillnets from the Columbia’s main stem.
• Being a fisherman can entail long hours and sacrifices of family time that a younger generation may be unwilling to accommodate.
Weighted against these factors is fishing’s timeless appeal to independent-minded entrepreneurs and adventurers. Those who get fishing into their souls and blood can’t imagine a better life than working in close harmony with the ocean and river.
An October 2017 article by John Cappetta in the online magazine Hakai (tinyurl.com/Teach-Kids-to-Fish) provides an eloquent statement about why we all should care about whether fishing survives as a career: The “ultimate goal is to restore and protect coastal ecosystems so people can live off them again. Ethical and engaged fishers are integral to that vision — they’re potential allies in taking the ocean’s pulse.”
In other words, smart fishermen take good care of the resources on which they depend, and can help lead all of us on a path toward wise ocean stewardship.
The industry is right to participate in job fairs and start taking other active steps to recruit new fishermen and women. A new state task force on maritime sector workforce development is a good move, along with normalizing the status of maritime jobs with a formal classification in Oregon’s employment division. Forming community fishing associations like one now getting off the ground in Ilwaco and Chinook is another good way to clear a path for younger fishermen.
Our communities will be wise to support all of this. We must work together with the industry to specifically address each of the factors that discourage a new generation from going to sea.
Fishing has been key to our economy and culture. It will take our full attention to ensure it remains so in the future.