America's commercial fishermen provide the public with some of the world's best seafood: Alaska salmon and halibut, Maine lobster, Gulf red snapper, New England cod - names that make your mouth water. These are the fishermen who support our coastal economies and contribute to our food security, and continue to do so in the face of a growing number of challenges.
Increasingly, commercial fishermen face vast uncertainty about changing ocean ecosystems, complex state and federal management systems, and the staggering costs to enter America's fisheries. These factors have contributed to a new challenge: declining numbers of young fishermen entering the commercial fishing industry. As a coastal community loses its next generation of fishermen, it also loses access to economic opportunity, food security, and its heritage.
As we work together to ensure the health of America's incredible marine ecosystems, we must also find ways to sustain the next generation of fishermen tasked with putting that food on our nation's table. Rather than see fishermen's role in our food system further isolated and diminished, we should equip young fishermen to be successful food producers, responsible marine stewards and valuable additions to their local economies.
Farmers and ranchers had concerns for their own future generations, inspiring Congress to create a number of programs to support this next generation of agriculture, including the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program and the Individual Development Accounts. Young farmers and ranchers have benefitted enormously from this federal support, ensuring a future generation is in place for this part of the U.S. food system.
Unfortunately, not a single federal program exists to provide support and resources to young commercial fishermen - the young men and women critical to the preservation of the culture, economy, community health, and food security in coastal America. This lack of support puts this important part of our food system in jeopardy, especially at a time when more consumers are looking for healthy protein sources that are locally sourced and sustainable. It reflects a massive oversight and a lost opportunity.
But we can change that.
A national program that partners with federal, state and local organizations and agencies to provide increased opportunities for the next generation of commercial fishermen, similar to what our friends in the agriculture community have access to, could be a groundbreaking step in protecting the stability of our coastal fishing communities and our seafood supply chain. Such programming and funding, if available to fishermen, could:
- Offer financial support and guidance for new fishery entrants.
- Provide training for developing new markets and adding value to their products.
- Create greater engagement in the public processes supporting marine management, lessening the divide between policy-makers and fishermen.
- Foster a conservation ethic that prioritizes sustainable fishing practices and marine stewardship.
- Identify ways to sustain America's working waterfronts essential to coastal industries and traditions.
We have already seen the successes of private and nonprofit efforts that work toward giving the next generation a path to follow and the support needed to acquire the skills and resources necessary to build strong new businesses. But these efforts are not yet well connected or nationally fortified. It is time to expand these regional efforts into a national program. That is why we are working, along with our colleagues around the nation, to propose a program that would provide adequate funding and support resources for this next generation of fishermen.
Now is the time for fishing organizations, federal agencies, regional management councils, and coastal communities to work together on this shared challenge. It is an opportunity for fishermen to unite nationwide, ensuring that our vision for a sustainable fishing future includes a healthy marine ecosystem, a stable seafood supply chain, and a thriving new generation of community fishermen.