Kean Fleming is hoping to get a few more fishermen on the ocean.
The program coordinator for the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team is investigating how to implement a Community Fishing Association in his town to help younger fishermen learn the trade – both the fishing and business ends – to replace others as they retire and keep fishing permits and quotas in the area.
The average age of fishermen in Port Orford is 56, he said, and few in the younger set are stepping up to take their places.
“We need to develop a program to bring the new guys into the industry,” Fleming told county commissioners Wednesday in his request for a letter of support to the national association. Commissioners agreed to do so.
POORT’s mission is to maintain access to resources to provide a sustainable fishery on the Port Orford Reef.
According to the Pacific Coast Commercial Fishermen’s Associations, Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs), a new method of fishery management, prevent people from entering the industry unless they come from established fishing families that own their boats or are wealthy enough to purchase quota.
The primary reason people don’t get into the field – or the ocean, in this case – is the expense.
The benefit of a CFA for up-and-coming fishermen is that the association can buy permits and quotas and lease them to the new fishermen at reduced rates, enabling them to save money to obtain their own equipment, permits and boats.
“It’s extremely expensive to be a fishermen these days,” Fleming said. “Permits, gear, a boat – that can cost you upward of $1 million. Its very hard to get into the industry.”
For example, a commercial salmon permit can cost $3,000 to $10,000, he said. A near-shore fishing permit can run $30,000. Crab runs $50,000 – and black cod can run $250,000.
Permits can be transferred, leased and sold, but if they’re not used, or aren’t used to harvest enough fish, they can be revoked and issued to someone else – and that new permittee might not live in the area.
“The concern is that permits are an investment – their 401k,” explained Commissioner David Brock Smith. “There’s the possibility of the (holder) selling the permit to someone else, and we lose that permit forever.”
Losing a permit means Port Orford not only loses another fisherman, but the harvest he brings and the money the community sees from his business. Such license-holders tend to congregate in larger ports such as Newport and Astoria.
“Thirty-five percent of our local economy is based on the industry,” Smith said. “It’s new money coming in from outside.”
Fleming modeled much of his idea for the local CFA after one in Cape Cod, Mass. The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association formed in 1991 when fishermen there began noticing a decline in fish – and a corresponding increase in legislation restricting aspects of their livelihood. The group addresses industry issues and keeps fishermen apprised of challenges they face.
Lately, such associations have been investigating IFQs, which proponents tout as a method to save fishermens’ jobs. But those in the PCCFA, the largest trade association of its sort on the West Coast, maintain that IFQs are too expensive to attract new fishermen into the industry.
“In an IFQ fishery, many ports could suddenly see their access to fish disappear as quota simply moves out of smaller ports,” wrote Sara Randall in an PCCFA newsletter. “In the advent of an IFQ fishery, fishing quota could instead be anchored to a particular community through a community fishing association.
“The fishermen, processors and other dependent businesses in the association in that port could then make decisions on how to use that quota to maximize its economic and social benefits to their own community.”
“This is great for any town looking to keep their fishing rights in perpetuity,” Fleming said. “It benefits any town that needs its fishing economy to last a long time. It keeps fishing jobs and fishing money here.”