Helping the next generation jump onboard
By John Pappalardo
There was a time when schools like the excellent Cape Cod Vocational Tech in Harwich had courses for aspiring fishermen, much as they do for aspiring builders, plumbers, and electricians. They taught about boats and gear, nets and line, safety and navigation. The Tech even had its own boat to bring students onboard for hands-on work.
Those courses slowed to a halt for a variety of reasons, mainly because demand decreased as the industry shrank. But here’s the Catch-22; without a good way for young people to pick up essential skills to join the fishery, and without reinforcement that fishing is a great career path, the industry will continue to decline even as opportunities to make a solid, sustainable, independent living come back.
To try to turn that downward spiral around, we’ve come up with a new program.
We’ve put together a five-course curriculum, focused on what it takes to be safe and productive on the back of a commercial fishing boat. Thanks in large part to our state Senator Julian Cyr, state Representative Sarah Peake, and the rest of the Cape Cod delegation, we’ve received $40,000 in state funding to get this program off the ground. And we have great partners to help us in teaching and training.
This year we hope to start with two courses, each with 12-15 people who might be recent high school or college graduates, or anyone 18 years or older who wants to become a crewmember on a local boat. Public school guidance counselors and vocational teachers will help us recruit. So will word of mouth – which is where you come in.
Here’s the basic course rundown:
Day one is all about the fundamentals of boating safety, taught by members of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Day two focuses on First Aid and CPR, taught by instructors from the New England Maritime in Hyannis, which has been offering accredited maritime training since 1991.
Day three layers in survival training, including capsizing survival, also taught by New England Maritime.
Day four brings in topics related to commercial fishing as we do it on Cape Cod, from the challenges of different gear types to basics like knot tying. Local captains are stepping up, committing their time to offer potential deckhands insights and wisdom gained from decades of experience.
Day five gets into hands-on fish handling and deck safety, again taught by members of the Fishermen’s Alliance.
When students “graduate,” they will receive a certificate acknowledging their success, support for purchasing essentials like foul weather gear, and join a social gathering with local captains which hopefully will become an informal jobs fair, a way to rub elbows and create a personal pipeline for good opportunities.
Of course five courses does not a fisherman make. But completing a course like this offers a big leg up, a way for aspiring crew to show they are serious and for captains to know a new hand has the basics. Then the education can continue; there is no better training for young fishermen interested in someday becoming captains and owners than to work with those who have accomplished that goal, who are proving that independent fishermen and entrepreneurs can still make it on Cape Cod.
All of us welcome the idea of a Blue Economy for the Cape and Islands as a great way to focus and frame our future. This training initiative, and what it hopes to accomplish, is as blue as it gets.
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)