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Fish Factor

Guaranteeing Younger Fishermen A Future
By Laine Welch


June 25, 2005

Younger fishermen will be guaranteed a future thanks to a new program being crafted in Bristol Bay that will keep fishing permits in the hands of local residents. The effort stems from a unique regional, state and federal partnership that will provide permit loans to the next generation of salmon fishermen.
jpg Laine Welch

A cornerstone of the lending program is a $750,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Administered by the Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), applicants will be able to borrow money from a "community development bank" to be used as a down payment on a permit. The program also got a huge boost from the state Division of Investments, when Director Greg Winegar "came riding in on a white horse," according to Terry Hoefferle, chief executive office of BBNA.

"That helped us address the issue of collateral, because the state can have an equity interest in the permit. So all of a sudden the problems about loan repayment and defaults became less important because now the permit could serve as its own collateral," he added. The Division is also in the business of lending money which will allow BBNA to leverage its available funds many times over.

Another key player is the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, which is subsidizing the loan down payment and interest rate. Perhaps most importantly, the BBEDC is also able to put young residents to work. "One of the things that make it most difficult for people to get or maintain loans is an inadequate income stream. So if a young person has a bad salmon season, BBEDC is able to provide off season jobs aboard their partner vessels in the Bering Sea," Hoefferle said. Last year, more than 180 residents earned a total of $664,000 working aboard offshore processing ships.

The idea for a loan program has been in the works for nearly a decade after it became obvious that Bristol Bay salmon permits were leaving local hands at an alarming rate. Of the roughly 2,800 drift gillnet permits originally issued in the early 1970's, about half (1,375) went to local residents. "Today just over 800 are held by locals and we have lost well over 40 percent of our permits. They have left the Bay and in many cases, they've left the state," said Hoefferle.

A number of things contributed to the exodus. When a Bay permit went up for sale, residents weren't able to bid on them due to the high price ($180,000 ten years ago, about $50,000 now), a lack of income stream not related to the salmon fishery, and no collateral. That was especially true for young people. "It became even more poignant when we started looking at who held the local permits ­ they were all older than the average age of permit holders in other fisheries," Hoefferle said. "It became evident that as older guys were leaving the fishery, there were no recruits to replace them. And that's another thing. Here in rural Alaska, people don't have a lot of liquid assets. So if a guy died and he had four or five children, rather than giving the permit to one and leaving everyone else out, it would be sold and the proceeds would be divided among the heirs," he added.

Leaders in the region agreed that something must be done, especially when a long term survey of high school students and recent graduates showed that 95 percent of the young men saw their future as being fishermen at Bristol Bay. "We said we cannot have these young people standing on the beach watching other people catch our fish," Hoefferle said.

Division of Investment's Winegar agrees that every time a fishing permit gets lost to an outside interest it hurts the state. He had high praise for the USDA's Dean Stewart in Palmer who has helped the unique lending program overcome numerous obstacles.  "This program has not been without snags and he really went all out to make it work," Winegar said.

He added that a similar lending program would also work for other Alaska regions. "This is something that really fits well with our Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan fund program and what it's set up to do. Providing jobs through local ownership of permits and perpetuating the future of our fisheries is really important to the economic well being of our small coastal communities. This could pay big dividends," Winegar said.  Back in Bristol Bay, the "community development bank" is expected to be open for business in Dillingham by November.
SALMON SPEEDWAY ­ The Wild Alaska Salmon race car sponsored by 10th & M Seafoods of Anchorage hits the Daytona track for a two hour race next week with an all new look. "The Porsche 911 has been painted black with reflective graphics so the salmon logo will really stand out under the lights," said driver Rod Emory. A camera inside the cock pit will also take viewers along for the ride. "All our Alaska fans can watch from the driver's seat as we're doing 180 miles an hour around the Daytona Speedway," Emory added.

Emory, who hails from Oregon, said reaction to the Wild Alaska Salmon car has been incredible. "We race all over the country and it's nice to promote something from our home turf. There aren't a lot of sports coming out of Alaska, so having a team to root for has gotten a lot of response," he said. He added that the seafood promotion is a perfect fit. "With the type of endurance racing we're doing, you have to be extremely fit and your diet has to be right in line. We're not only promoting it, we're regular users of Alaska seafood," he said.

Co-driver Chris Ridgeway agreed the Alaska Wild Salmon logo attracts a lot of attention. "People come up all the time and ask if we're racing for fish. And they get the phone number off the car so they can have Alaska seafood delivered to their homes," he said. Alaska seafood is also featured in the team's hospitality tent at all races, which are held in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. "Our tent is the most popular by far," Ridgeway said.  Skip Winfree, owner of 10th & M Seafoods, said the team provides information about Alaska seafood at every event. They hope to get some grant money to produce tasty samples of salmon jerky in seafood trading card packets to hand out to race fans.  

The new team is hoping to finish in the top 10 at the Daytona 250. "We're still pulling things together and with luck we might make the top five. We're preparing for a championship run by next year," said Chris Ridgeway. You can watch the race on the Speed Channel on June 30, starting at 3pm Alaska time. Photos and updates are also available anytime at .
URGENT CALL FOR SEAFOOD WORKERS ­ Several hundred workers are needed now at Bristol Bay where the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery is set to get underway any day. Most seafood companies will pay travel expenses to and from the remote sites, and provide room and board. The Bristol Bay jobs will last through mid-July. Workers are also needed at Kodiak, Southeast and other coastal regions, where jobs will last into early September.

Laurie Fuglvog of the State Dept. of Labor said most jobs require workers to be at least 18, but there are many opportunities for younger workers as well. "If you live in a company bunkhouse, you must be at least 18. But if you have your own housing or can share a place with friends or family, you can be younger. Certain positions, depending on the types of machinery, require a work permit with parent's approval, but that is easy to get," she said. Contact any local Job Center , follow the state Dept. of Labor's seafood links on the internet, or call 1-800-473-0688 to sign on.


For 17 years, Laine Welch has covered the Alaska "fish beat" for print and broadcast.
Along with her statewide Fish Radio programs, since 1991 Laine's weekly Fish Factor column has appeared in more than a dozen newspapers and web sites.
Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. She can be reached at

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