Fishermen from Sitka and beyond gathered last week for a fall Fishermen’s Expo from Nov. 7–9. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) partnered with the Sitka Seafood Festival to host the multiday event, which offered free workshops, educational presentations, and networking opportunities for commercial fishermen, deckhands and the general public.
Similar to past expos, this event combined educational opportunities to benefit those involved in the local fishing economy while at the same time expanding the Sitka Seafood Festival’s summer festivities into the fall season.
“I’m very grateful that we are able to continue to offer these workshops for free, thanks to the support of our sponsors and community,” director of the festival Willow Moore said. Sponsors this year included SEARHC, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the City and Borough of Sitka, Harry Race Pharmacy, and the Alaska Commercial Company.
The expo lineup included a drill conductor course and a vessel stability course offered by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA).
“We’ve been doing safety trainings for fishermen for over 35 years, and we offer them all year round all over the United States,” AMSEA executive director Jerry Dzugan said.
AMSEA’s mission is to provide training that is accessible, affordable, relevant, and hands-on. Specific safety trainings, like the drill conductor course, are required by the Coast Guard for commercial fishing vessels, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found that a person has a 150 percent chance of surviving an emergency if they have received training within the last five years.
Representatives from Nobeltec offered presentations of its software for seafloor mapping. Many fishermen use the software to collect real-time data while fishing as well as recording fishing hot spots and past fishing routes. The technology is used by fishermen to avoid bycatch and catch fish more efficiently.
Fishermen also had an opportunity to learn about sablefish pots at a workshop with Lance Nylander of Dungeness Gear Works.
“These are designed to keep whales from taking sablefish and halibut off the hooks,” Nylander said. “We have different kinds of styles for that can be modified. The clients that we’ve built pots for have had success with them.” The company has also designed pots to allow for small fish to escape, which helps fishermen get a better price for their overall catch.
The expo included financial workshops for fishermen, including a workshop by David Byrne about “Borrowing for your Fishing Business” and a bookkeeping and business primer workshop presented by Susea Albee, an accountant who owns Spirit Bear Bookeeping & Business Solutions.
“It’s important for fishermen to understand their financial standing and make informed decisions about their business and take advantage of opportunities when they become available” Albee said.
Jacquie Foss manages the finances for her family’s fishing operation in Sitka and attended the expo’s bookkeeping workshop at this expo and the previous one.
“It was really good to go again because I always learn something new that I should be doing,” she said. “Last time, I learned basics like getting an EIN number, and this year we talked about keeping paperwork, different kinds of bookkeeping, tax information, tracking expenses, and how to balance our accounts to be effective.”
Considered “young fishermen” by their peers, Foss and her husband Zach began trolling seven years ago on their boat, the FV Axel.
“We didn’t grow up fishing, but we thought, why not, let’s try it,” she recalled. “It was like jumping in blind-folded, feet first. There weren’t opportunities like these when we first started. We figured out a lot on our own. It’s hugely helpful that they have the expo now.”
Foss highlighted another benefit of the expo workshops.
“It’s not just being taught something by the instructor but also being with other people in the audience who fish. They’ve been there, and they are willing to share their insights, like financial strategies that have been useful.”
Jeremy Woodrow, the communications director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, one of the major sponsors of the event, presented an overview of its marketing efforts domestically and worldwide on behalf of all Alaska fishermen, and he also shared market trends from their latest economic report.
“It was exciting to hear that the market value trends for salmon are strong,” commented Sommers Cole, a gillnetter who attended the expo as the skipper of the FV Energizer in Juneau.
“It also was impressive to hear that this summer was when the seventh billionth salmon was harvested commercially since statehood. It really speaks highly of the sustainability of the fisheries in Alaska in terms of both management and the fish habitat,” Cole said.
She attended the expo to do outreach for the Stand for Salmon initiative. While the ASMI presentation noted that 7 billion salmon have been fished commercially since statehood, this number did not include the abundance of other species of fish and seafood that are caught commercially and through subsistence harvests.
“What we have in Alaska is unique,” she said. “Not many other places in the world have what Alaska has in terms of this resource.”
At Harrigan Centennial Hall, Elizabeth Figus presented “Eyes on the Sea: What halibut fishermen have to say about bycatch and data collection in their fishery.” Figus is a fisheries Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who studies how to incorporate local knowledge into commercial fisheries management. Her presentation included results of interviews she conducted with halibut fishermen about data collection on their vessels, including fishermen from Sitka. She found that data collection methods that account for fishing characteristics would increase the accuracy of data collection programs for fisheries management, and that fishermen in Southeast Alaska are likely to support a shift towards electronic monitoring as an alternative to carrying human observers.
Social events in the evening included the expo’s first “Fishermen’s Job Fair” hosted at the Mean Queen and sponsored by ASMI. Prospective crew and skippers signed up to be matched in ALFA’s apprenticeship program.
“We are always looking for more skippers to mentor apprentices,” Alyssa Russell of ALFA said.
ALFA screened the film “We Are All Fishermen,” which is a short documentary about small boat fishing families in Southeast Alaska. ALFA worked with filmmaker Emmett Williams to produce the film, which is due to be more widely released this winter. ASMI also showed the winning films submitted by Alaskan fishermen from their latest video contest.
Organizers at ALFA anticipate hosting another FishExpo in Sitka next year.
“We really hope this expo will continue to grow to an even larger audience,” said Woodrow.
Wendy Alderson of the FV Ocean Cape said attending the expo events was a reminder of all the resources she has available to her.
“It’s a good way to become familiar with all of these groups out there,” she said. “I really appreciated meeting the new person from the Department of Environmental Conservation in Sitka at one of the mixers, and I’m so glad I went to the ASMI presentation because I know that they can help me when I have questions about certifications and other processes.”
Alderson also appreciated the expo’s aim to help the newer fishermen navigate the complicated world of fishing today.
“Going into business as a family fishery is challenging starting out because if you don’t know the right questions to ask, it’s hard to get answers. Coming to the expo teaches you the right questions to ask,” she reflected. “We have to help keep the fisheries viable for young families so that they can have a livelihood and keep our coastal communities vibrant.”
• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Alaska. Contact her at email@example.com.