First Nations Fisheries Apprenticeship Program: A Whole Lot More than Catching Fish

A new learning-based initiative pairs experts in the field of aquatic resources with those interested in a career in the fishing industry.

The Aboriginal Fisheries Apprenticeship program is a three-month pilot course giving Nuu-chah-nulth members four Transport Canada certifications and a Stability certificate from Fish Safe (an organization that provides on-the-water safety training in BC), as well as practical skills, such as tying knots, rope splicing, and net mending.

A partnership with Uu-a-thluk, Huu-ay-aht First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation (NSDC), Tseshaht/Hupacasath Commercial Fishing Enterprise (CFE), School District 70, and the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program (NETP), this innovative First Nations-led program offers participants valuable connections in the fishing industry as they build on necessary knowledge to be on the water. Viewed broadly, organizers recognize it as a way to train new people for the fishing industry once the older generation retires.

“The average age of a sea captain is 65 years old, and 55 years for a commercial deckhand,” said Larry Johnson, President, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation, and a key player in developing the apprenticeship program.  Johnson sees the program as vital to meeting the increasing demands for commercial fishing jobs. And the hands-on knowledge participants receive will only add to success in their chosen field. Also, there is an aspect of inter-generational knowledge in the program given that two of the participants, father and son, are taking the course together.

Participants learn directly from skippers and deck hands while on crab, prawn or salmon boats captained by Nuu-chah-nulth fishers. And although the focus of the program is largely on training deckhands, it gives people a unique set of skills that are transferable to a number of different areas, such as a processing plant, fisheries guardianship, and fisheries resource management. The course also provides equivalency credits in school and flexibility of the students’ schedules to make room for this type of “outside the box” experience in their learning.

“This is an opportunity for students to engage in real life learning that can lead to summer employment and a career down the road,” said David Maher, Vice Principal, Alberni District Secondary School. Maher has been instrumental in working with partners to develop the program and in recruiting students with a good chance at success.

The pilot program runs from March 9 into June and organizers plan to offer the program to additional Nuu-chah-nulth communities in future. This wave of enrollment includes students from Alberni District Secondary School, Ditidaht Community School, VAST Education Centre, and the Port Alberni area.

“We’re looking for Nuu-chah-nulth members with a passion for the outdoors and for being on the water,” said Johnson. “Many Nuu-chah-nulth members have grown up on a boat and have many skills, yet things are different today.” He noted the emphasis on safety through obtaining certifications, such as Small Vessel Operator Proficiency (SVOP), adding that in the past six years NSDC has issued 200 certificates to meet today’s standards.

“Job requirements are changing and it’s not enough to know how to catch a fish anymore.”

To receive information about this pilot program, you can contact Michelle Colyn, Capacity Building Coordinator, Uu-a-thluk, at

Here’s a link to the PDF version:

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