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There is a Future in Fishing

April 22, 2019

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 edition of the Union Forum magazine.

There is a Future in Fishing – And it includes young educated committed fish harvesters

Mark Dolomount,
Executive Director, Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board

Since 1997 when the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board (PFHCB) was established, the face of our province’s fishing industry has been steadily changing on many levels.  While some are quick to interpret these changes as negative, there is much to be positive and optimistic about!

Throughout the past 20+ years the industry has been in “rationalization mode”, with retirements/licence buy-backs and licence combining/buddy-up opportunities – all in an effort to make the industry more viable for those fish harvesters that remain.   As a direct result, the number of fishing enterprises has been reduced by approximately 50%.  Similarly, and not surprisingly, the total number of certified fish harvesters has declined at the same rate.  Over this period we’ve also witnessed a steep increase in the value of fishing enterprises, and a significant increase in the age of fish harvesters – particularly enterprise owners, many who continue to hold enterprises and fish beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

There is no doubt that these combined factors have impacted the number of opportunities available to younger harvesters entering the fishery.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that there are less young full-time fish harvesters in 2019 than there were in 1997.

Sadly, some critics dwell on the negative (and the past), and we hear over-exaggerated and non-factual statements like:

“There are no young people entering the fishery.”

“It’s impossible to become a Level II fish harvester.”

“There’s no way a young person can own their own enterprise.”

A more positive and factual interpretation would be:

“There are less young people entering the fishery.” (As would be expected!)

“It takes time and commitment to become a Level II fish harvester.” (As it should!)

“Enterprises have become valuable and highly sought after.” (As they should be!)

Make no mistake, there is a future in fishing – and it includes young educated committed fish harvesters living and working in communities throughout our province.  In fact, a recent national fisheries labour market report by the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters showed that the average annual income of a self-employed fish harvester in Newfoundland and Labrador increased by 106% between 2000 and 2015 (from $26,117 to $53,773).

It is a very common misconception that there are less new entrants coming into the fishery in recent years.  Actually, the number of new entrants has remained stable for the past decade.  Since 2010, the average number of new entrants has been 459 per year, with a low of 303 in 2013 and a high of 558 in 2017.  The more positive news is that the average age of new entrants in 2018 was 37 years, and nearly 60% were under the age of 40.

Perhaps the most noticeable trend is the increasing number of young fish harvesters throughout the province enrolled in Fishing Masters and other fisheries-related training.  For example, the Marine Institute has approximately 150 students enrolled in Fishing Master IV (FMIV) and Fishing Master III (FMIII) courses this winter.   Half of those students are participating in community-based courses in six locations around the province, and the other half are enrolled in the computer-based online Fishing Master program.   Most of these students are in their 20’s and early 30’s – for example, the FMIV class in New-Wes-Valley ranges from early 20’s to early 40’s with an average age of 32, and the FMIII class in Lewisporte has 5 (of 11) students in their 20’s.

The majority of these students are Apprentice and Level I fish harvesters committed to Level II certification upgrading with the PFHCB.  This “Class of 2019” will join the increasing number of fish harvesters upgrading their certification status in recent years.  The number has increased every year over the past 6 years, with more than 500 upgrades in total.  2018 saw the largest number of certification upgrades at 118.  The average age was 36, and 73% were 40 years of age or younger.

By upgrading their PFHCB certification, these (primarily young) professional fish harvesters secure their future in the industry and become eligible to be the designated operator of a fishing enterprise (Minimum of Level I), or receive the transfer of a fishing enterprise (Level II).  Also, for those that achieve their Transport Canada Fishing Master certification, they also acquire a valuable internationally recognized nautical certificate that increases their employability and professional competency.

Two impressive examples of this recent influx of bright young committed fish harvesters are Jay and Logan Ryan of La Scie.  Jay (20) and Logan (who will be 20 in April) are currently enrolled in the Fishing Master III course in Lewisporte.   Cousins, who began fishing together at an early age with their fathers and grandfather, Logan and Jay each completed their Fishing Master IV at the age of 18.  Both young men will now be eligible for Level II certification with the PFHCB in 2019.

“Our future is in the fishery”, says Logan, “and we’re both looking forward to living and building our fishing enterprises right here in La Scie.”  Jay and Logan Ryan have certainly demonstrated that with a little sacrifice, hard work, and commitment a career in commercial fishing is achievable at a very young age.  With their Level II certification and Class III Fishing Masters they will certainly be well on their way!

There’s little doubt that our future fisheries labour force will be smaller – but it will also be more stable, well trained, professional and safety-minded.  While our industry will continue to experience short-term ups and downs and uncertainty, the long-term outlook remains extremely positive!

If you are interested in a career as a professional fish harvester, contact the PFHCB at 722-8170.  If you are interested in information on Fishing Master training, call the Marine Institute at 778-0623.