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Labor issues are top concern for Great Lakes commercial fishing industry, says new survey

Fish producers.jpg
Courtesy of Michigan Fish Producers Association

A new survey from the Michigan Sea Grant program shows the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry is struggling to recruit and retain workers.

The commercial fishermen who responded to the survey overwhelmingly said that keeping workers on board, literally, is the number one issue facing their businesses.

Lauren Jescovitch is with Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Sean Grant Program. She says there is enthusiasm among young people to break into the field.

"But they kind of underestimate how much work there is. For instance, waking up at four or five AM and going out fishing. But then Americans really want a fillet or process product. So, after catching that fish, you need to sit and process the fish," said Jescovitch.

Jescovitch says the retention half of the equation is the most difficult due to inconsistent pay and demanding working conditions.

But Jescovitch added that the new survey reveals something even more surprising. Only 47% of fisherman in the Great Lakes sell fish direct to market within 60 miles of their dock. Additionally, the survey found that nearly 70% of all fish caught out of the Great Lakes is processed and sold within 60 miles of the fishermen’s deck.

"The most interesting fact is probably that the market on who buys the fish based on if they're processed or if they’re fish on the dock value. It highlights that if we could get these fishermen to also process then they can produce more fish for our local economies," said Jescovitch.

Jescovitch says the Young Fishermen’s Development Act is a program that will help create a new pipeline of workers for the commercial fishing industry.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.