URI, Commercial Fisheries Center combine to create apprentice program in commercial fishing

URI, Commercial Fisheries Center combine to create apprentice program in commercial fishing


POINT JUDITH — In early July, a group of apprentices joined a pilot program designed to train new commercial fishermen and women. When the program ended 20 days later, not a single apprentice had dropped out.

“We were very pleased with that,” said Barbara Somers, a research associate at the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science who helped put the program together. “We started with 12 and we ended with 12.”

The program, funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was a joint initiative of URI and the Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island, a non-profit group representing nine fishing organizations. The goal was to produce skilled crews to replenish the declining ranks of the Rhode Island commercial fishery.

The course covered all aspects of fishing, from fish stock assessments to net-mending and engine repair. Most of the training took place on fishing vessels and at fishing-related businesses. Equipment and meals were provided, and everyone who completed the program received a $1,000 stipend. Participants were also introduced to Point Judith’s tightly-knit commercial fishing community, where many have already found jobs.

Marian Kach, 37, is one of two women who completed the program. She said she had learned about the course on Facebook and jumped at the opportunity.

“I’ve been into fishing for seven years, rod and reel, and I’ve always wanted to work on a dragger, but as a woman, it’s kind of hard to approach a bunch of people in a very different way of fishing, and I didn’t really know anybody down there,” she said.

Kach’s previous jobs have included bartending and dog grooming. She is currently working on a Point Judith fishing vessel, the Brooke Elise, and despite having been at work since 4:30 in the morning fishing for scup, she says she’s found her dream job.

“I love not being in an office,” she said. “I love that you never know what’s going to be in the net. Every single day is different. The idea of being able to feed the world pretty much fascinates me. If you go down to the Point [Judith] anybody who’s been doing it long enough will say it’s a way of life, and I couldn’t imagine going back to anything else.”

Charlie Dwane, 18, said he’d wanted to become a fisherman since high school.

“What I’ve wanted to do ever since my sophomore year is go fishing,” he said. “I looked into it a great deal and I realized there’s a lot of money in it, and if I save my money wisely, I can make a career out of it and do something with it for the rest of my life.”

Duane is now working on squid boats, but he hopes to move to Alaska to fish for crab and pollock.

“There’s a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned or even known about or even thought about if I hadn’t taken that class,” he said. “I’m seeing things totally different than I would have if I’d just started out on a boat.”

Christopher Brown, President of the East Farm Commercial Fisheries Center, said that a host of local fishermen and owners of fishing-related businesses came together to teach the course. In addition to basic fishing skills, the apprentices were taught the importance of teamwork on fishing vessels and what it means to be a part of the commercial fishing community.

“There’s more to fishing than dead fish in a box,” Brown said. “We are shipmates. We take care of one another. We look out for each other. We have a resource to consider. And we layered it and exposed them to the depth of all of the intricacies of the industry that go beyond catching fish. There’s a social component.”

The program may be offered next summer, but Somers said it would be slightly different, with more hands-on fishing instruction and less theory.

“Most of the apprentices were interested in the fishing part of things and not so much the science behind it and how the regulations are made,” Somers said.

Brown said in order to present a complete and honest picture of commercial fishing, instructors also told the apprentices about the downsides of the industry.

“We were very honest with them and the burden that it can put on marriages and the burdens it puts on your time,” he said. “There’s an upside and a downside to everything of being a self-employed fisherman. We laid it all out there for them, they took it all in, and everyone is down there slugging right now. A lot of them are fishing. For the most part, I think they’ve had a pretty successful indoctrination into the industry.”

cdrummond@ thewesterlysun.com @cynthiadrummon4

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