Three Maine organizations are looking for input from Maine fishermen, educators and industry experts for an initiative aimed at closing education and training gaps to better prepare the next generation of Maine fishermen.

Over the next three to four months, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Sea Grant and Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries will gather input from fishermen and industry experts regarding what skills would have given them an advantage, whether that’s how to haul traps or decoding harvesting laws.

The goal is to identify where existing education and training programs “might be enhanced to better meet the needs of the next generation,” said Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Ben Martens.

Martens said the education initiative was launched while the three organizations involved wait for funding from a bill Congress passed last year called the Young Fishermen’s Development Act. The bill aims to “preserve United States fishing heritage through a national program dedicated to training and assisting the next generation of commercial fishermen.”

Following the passage of this legislation, Maine Sea Grant received support from the National Sea Grant office to launch the education research initiative, dubbed “Sea Careers.”

When the information collection period ends, the three organizations will produce a report with the findings that will be sent to National Sea Grant and will be publicly available, said Martens.

In preliminary conversations with fishermen, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries Fisheries Education Specialist Tom Duym said responses regarding what fishermen want to learn have varied based on age. He said more established fishermen are more interested in learning money management skills and how to become involved with organizations that represent the fishing industry.

Younger fishermen, however, have shown a hunger for learning what newer technologies are available for fishermen as well as how they can survive upcoming challenges that could put their livelihood at risk. Duym said younger fishermen and harvesters are especially concerned about how efforts to protect endangered right whales, or future building of offshore wind mills, could gouge the lobster industry.

“It’s a real and present threat to them,” Duym said. “What shook me when I was talking to younger fishermen is they’re worried about what they’re going to be doing in 10 years. That also opens up the door for discussions they maybe don’t want to hear, but they know they’re going to need to in order to survive this. Having been around the fishing industry as an educator for over 40 years, I’ve seen this come and go before, but this time there’s a level of urgency to it that hasn’t existed before.”

Martens said this deep-dive into what training a fisherman needs to have to be successful in Maine is especially needed now because the career is only becoming more complex.

“It used to be that if you were good at catching fish, you could be a good fisherman,” said Martens. “There are a lot of complex pieces that go into running a fishing business now. We want to build a fishing community for that next generation of fishermen who will need to be strong businessmen, leaders, and understand science and policy. We want to give them all the tools they need to succeed in the future.”

Martens said Maine is also unique in that the commercial fishing industry, which the state is known for, is made largely of small, owner-operated fishing boats. Not only that, but there’s a next generation of fishermen that are looking to take over for those aging out of the industry.

“There are a lot of places in the U.S. that don’t have a next generation of fishermen coming,” said Martens. “This is a real opportunity for Maine, and we’re really excited to help lead some of this work to make sure there’s success in front of us.”

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