ANCHORAGE -- Lindsey Bloom is so enthusiastic about her budding career as a commercial fisherman that she had the state's "Made in Alaska" emblem and two leaping sockeye salmon tattooed on the small of her back.
Raleigh Eager, who found himself living in a tent on Kodiak Island after a friend back home in New York City told him he could get rich fishing in Alaska, is hoping to diversify his small cod-fishing operation -- if he can find the dollars to do it.
Mike Jones, who abandoned a job fishing for crab on the Bering Sea after the once-lucrative paychecks dried up, is now a deckhand on a halibut boat and hopes someday to captain his own vessel.
These three represent the reinforcements for an old Alaska industry, a new generation looking to take the wheel from those who have dominated the tough trade of commercial fishing.
The transition will not be easy, say industry players and advisers. With more than a 100-year heritage in Alaska, commercial fishing is a profession that used to be fairly wide open and free of regulation.
Today, the open range of the sea is increasingly fenced, regulations are dense and new players need tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy government permits or fishing rights, known as quotas, to catch salmon, herring, halibut, sablefish, crab and other species. There is also the cost of modern fishing boats, gear, diesel fuel and bait.
The big money involved has many young fishermen worried. Veteran fishermen -- some of whom got fishing permits and quotas free as original recipients -- fret about whether anyone will be able to afford to buy them out once they retire.
According to state fishery regulators and others, the graying of the fleet is advancing significantly. The average age of people holding state permits to catch salmon and other types of fish in 2005 was 48, up from 41 two decades earlier. People holding federal permits and lucrative individual fishing quotas, or IFQs, for halibut and sablefish also are pushing toward retirement age, industry observers say.
The generation of fishermen just coming into the business faces major hurdles, and not just financial ones, said Arne Fuglvog, a former commercial fisherman from Petersburg who is now an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
"You've got to be an accountant, a lawyer and a businessman to be a fisherman these days. And for good measure, you gotta be a biologist too," he said.
But a recent two-day seminar, the Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit, attracted plenty of up-and-comers to an Anchorage hotel.
The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, sponsored the event as a way to cast a net for "future fishing leaders." Nearly 70 people, almost all of them under the age of 40, took part.
The seminar was a crash course on the business, rules and feisty politics of Alaska's commercial fishing industry, which employs thousands of people and produces more than half the U.S. seafood catch.
Bloom, 26, is from Juneau and nets salmon at Bristol Bay. She owns her own permit and captains her own boat, the 32-foot Erika Leigh. Her dad is a longtime commercial fisherman.
For Bloom, the fishing life is the best kind of life, offering the freedom of working for yourself on the open water plus regular shots of adrenaline.
Once, she said, fishing had just begun in Bristol Bay's notoriously combative Egegik district when her boat motor quit. All around, boats had nets in the water catching lucrative sockeye while she sat with air in the fuel system. But not for long.
"I had no idea I could bleed my valves, get my engine running and get back fishing," she said. "It's just so empowering. You don't have a choice. You just suck it up."
Bloom said she hoped to pick up some helpful tips from the young fishermen's summit. Her boat is old and slow, and she would like to upgrade to a newer model capable of refrigerating or icing the fish, which improves freshness and the dockside price. But she reckons the upgrade could cost as much as $300,000.
Brooklyn-born Eager, 35, who came to Alaska in 1992, also has his own boat, a 35-footer he uses to jig for cod. It's a small-scale style of fishing, one that young fishermen can afford. To advance his career, Eager believes he needs to diversify -- buy a permit to also fish for salmon and invest in halibut IFQs, which can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He says he is frustrated that too many established halibut fishermen seem to be paying less and less to deckhands -- jobs Eager and others do to generate the cash to buy quotas and build their own operations.
Christopher "Kit" Durnil, a Seward deckhand, said the best thing about the young fishermen's summit was "just seeing the number of people in our same situation."