Seafood

Young Fishermen Are Struggling to Stay Afloat

Published by
Tilde Herrera

A version of this article originally appeared in the October issue of the Deep Dish, our monthly newsletter for members. Become a member today to receive the next issue.

Lucas Raymond has been working as a deckhand on a boat that catches monkfish, pollock, hake, and occasional cod out of New Hampshire’s Rye Harbor for the last decade. His fishing trips often involve navigating rough, stormy waters and typically last two to three days, but the 30-year-old enjoys doing physical work outside. “Even at the end of a very hard day, it’s rewarding,” Raymond says.

He considers fishermen to be some of society’s last hunters. “We bring in a very healthy, natural wild protein source, and that’s so important. It’s a shame to watch [the industry] struggle the way it is.”

Like many sectors, commercial fishing is facing a worker shortage, with too few young fishermen coming in to replace the aging workforce. The average age of groundfish and lobster captains in New England is 55 years old, according to the New England Young Fishermen’s Alliance (NEYFA). “It’s an industry that is truly dying,” Raymond said. “There are so few people getting into it. It’s incredibly disheartening.”

The biggest barrier to entry for the industry is cost. Although Raymond is a seasoned fisherman who often runs his employer’s boat, going into business for himself would be very expensive. A small boat—even a fixer-upper—can cost up to $40,000. He’d need to pay about $25,000 to moor the boat, $5,000 to insure it, and at least $10,000 for gear—not to mention fuel, which is running about $6 a gallon.

Raymond would also need to spend another $30,000 for his own groundfishing permit, with specific quota to catch individual groundfish species. Since this basic permit would have limited quota, he’d need to lease additional shares to fish throughout the season from a fisherman or sector that owns permits with groundfish quota. Since 2010, this is how New Hampshire’s fish populations have been regulated, and it’s an approach that Raymond and others believe has decimated small independent fishing boats in favor of larger operations that buy and trade catch shares like a commodity. A groundfish permit with enough quota to earn a successful living could cost as much as $200,000, says Andrea Tomlinson, NEYFA’s executive director.

Launched in 2021, the organization is addressing the “graying of the fleet” with a training program that gives experienced fishers like Raymond tools to move to the captain’s wheelhouse. Tomlinson says it’s the first program of its kind to target mid-career fishermen with training in business management, regulations, safety, permitting, marketing, and financing, along with mentorship from an experienced boat captain. Raymond is one of six participants in the inaugural program as he works toward his goal of owning his own fishing boat.

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“Hopefully, I can make that happen in the next year, but realistically, it may take a couple,” Raymond said. “Either way, what I hope to get out of this program is to put myself in a better spot toward boat ownership.”

With help from the Alliance, Raymond is learning business skills such as how to create a business plan and secure a boat loan, which could help him—and other young fishers—take the helm much faster.

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Tilde Herrera

Tilde Herrera is an editor at Civil Eats. She is also a writer and editor who covers business, food, and sustainability.

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Published by
Tilde Herrera

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