The BC Young Fishermen’s Gathering: Supporting the Next Generation of BC’s Commercial Fishery
Young people interested in pursuing fishing careers received some encouragement last month in Victoria at the inaugural BC Young Fishermen’s Gathering. The event, aimed at educating and empowering new entrants to British Columbia’s commercial fisheries, was attended by over thirty youth from across the province. Nearly every fishery was represented, from salmon trolling to sea cucumber diving.
The two-day workshop provided a variety of tools and resources for early-career fishermen. Experienced fishermen and industry members offered valuable information on topics including alternative marketing strategies, financing a fishing operation, marine safety, and innovative solutions to fisheries issues. A visit to Finest At Sea provided an interactive tour of a vertically integrated fishing operation. Participants networked and discussed challenges facing new entrants to fishing, and received guidance from mentors. Presenters were heartened to see young faces in the audience and to interact with the next generation of fishermen.
The event was inspired by the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit, which was established in 2007 by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in response to similar fisheries pressures. With help from the organizers of the Alaska summit, a British Columbian version was developed. Organizers included representatives from the UFAWU, the T.Buck Suzuki Foundation, and various fishing organizations. The event received financial support from the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, VanCity, the Fraser Valley Fishermen’s Local of the UFAWU, and the Steveston Harbour Authority. In-kind supporters and presenters included Skipper Otto’s CSF, Pacific Coast Fisherman’s Mutual Marine Insurance, BMO, Fish Safe, and many others. Twenty of the participants received funding support in order to attend.
Participants of the Young Fishermen’s Gathering had positive things to say about their experiences. “I walked away with so much more understanding, knowledge and connections which have provided me with more confidence as we navigate our way through [the fishing industry],” said Christina Smith. Sean Frank, a salmon seiner, stated that he was “positive everyone left the gathering with a wealth of information and serious food for thought for our fishing industry and the direction we want to see it go even though it is a very daunting task.”
If fisheries are to remain a viable industry for independent operators in the future, there should be increased support for youth at the beginning of their careers. The greying of the fleet has begun to erode some of the economic and cultural integrity of coastal communities, where fisheries have provided food security, cultural identity, and many other valuable benefits for centuries – even millennia.
The BC Young Fishermen’s Gathering provided knowledge and connections for young people setting out on their fishing careers. The event wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of so many different members of the fishing community, and it was inspiring to witness so many people rising to the challenge and helping out. Based on the success of this year’s Gathering, the organizers are hoping to make this an annual event.