Fishing has been woven into the fabric of coastal communities throughout history. For hundreds of years, people have relied upon the resources that were bountiful in the Gulf of Mexico, and over time, people built family businesses around commercial fishing and seafood production. Today, commercial fishing in the U.S. provides sustainable seafood to consumers across the world. The waters of the Gulf provide fertile fishing grounds, and the U.S. has some of the most rigorously managed fisheries in the world, thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). On top of science-based management mandated by MSA, the Red Snapper and Grouper-Tilefish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Programs have improved the reef fish fishery; the red snapper population is increasing, commercial reef fish fishermen are fishing at sustainable levels and within their catch limits, and there is better business stability. We are rebuilding and protecting our fisheries not just for the fishermen and consumers of today, but for future generations as well. This is why it's important to us to cultivate a strong base of young fishermen to carry on the legacy of today's fishery leaders.
While commercial fishing is an economic driver in the Gulf of Mexico, there are obstacles and challenges. Commercial fishermen are aging (40% of commercial fishermen are over 55) , and there is a shortage of young fishermen to take over from the current generation. Because of the high-risk nature of commercial fishing and need for large upfront investment, finding the capital to start a fishing business can be challenging. Banks may be hesitant to grant loans to new commercial fishermen. Additionally, the regulatory landscape is complex, and the skillset required to be successful is diverse (gear and vessel maintenance, navigation, safety-at-sea, business planning, among others). Due to these challenges, the Shareholders’ Alliance is working to build a strong cohort of young fishermen who will take the reins and are dedicated to conservation, accountability, and sustainability.
What Does the Shareholders’ Alliance Do to Support Next Generation Fishermen?
- We advocate for funding to develop training programs across the country. The Shareholders’ Alliance, along with like-minded small boat commercial fishing groups , support the Young Fishermen’s Development Act , which would create a $2 million grant program for training initiatives for young and next generation fishermen.
- We provide access to red snapper allocation. The Reef Fish Quota Bank is the only program of its kind in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a source of red snapper allocation for next generation fishermen who are committed to high standards of accountability and conservation.
- We support young fishermen involved in the management process. We regularly bring young fishermen to Washington, D.C. and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meetings to provide their first-hand experiences to elected representatives and fishery managers. Testimony from next generation fishermen is a powerful tool to communicate how regulations will impact those making a living on fishery resources. We also encourage fishermen to attend the Marine Resource Education Program , a multi-day workshop focused on educating fishermen in fishery-science and the regulatory process.
- We promote financial assistance and loan programs for commercial fishermen. Access to capital to start or grow a fishing business is a challenge for next generation fishermen. The Shareholders’ Alliance is engaging with private financial institutions to increase the likelihood that they will grant loans to commercial fishermen. We also support National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fishery Finance Program as a valuable resource for fishermen.
- We work with fishery leaders across the Gulf of Mexico. The Shareholders’ Alliance is part of a multi-state, multi-fishery leadership team that is working to develop a young fishermen training and education program for the Gulf of Mexico.