2014 Bristol Bay River Academy
Iliamna, Alaska – This past August, students from a number of Bristol Bay communities learned how to tie a coho salmon fly, cast a fly rod into the wind, and prepare a detailed list of gear and supplies to bring for a day on the water with a client. On the last day of the students’ training, their new skills are put to the test. Each year at the Academy’s culmination, “clients” from the host community of the Bristol Bay River Academy arrive to be guided through an afternoon of fishing. By the end of the academy, the 13 students are ready to teach their community-member client the basics of fly fishing, and have a safe and fun day fishing the Newhalen River.
“The River Academy teaches kids from Bristol Bay communities the skills they need to be fishing guides,” said Nanci Morris Lyon, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge and River Academy instructor. “I enjoy sharing these skills, but I also enjoy the discussions that lead to better understanding between commercial, sport and subsistence fishing families and communities.”
“Trout Unlimited supports the River Academy because we believe it’s a win-win. The Academy opens the door for local kids to pursue sport fishing jobs in their communities, and enables them as future Bristol Bay guides to share local culture and river conservation challenges with visitors to the region,” said Nelli Williams, with Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. The goal of the Academy is to ready local young people for good paying jobs close to home, as well as cultivate passionate guides who are informed about local waters and conservation issues, and are ready to provide a world-class experience to the thousands of anglers who come to Bristol Bay each year to fish. Seven of the Academy’s graduates are now employed at Bristol Bay-area lodges.
“We are incredibly proud of the skills our students have gained this year on the water, as well as the knowledge they have gained about the importance of healthy, shared fisheries among many types of users in Bristol Bay,” said Morris Lyon.
Thanks to support from Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Trout Unlimited, Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, The Orvis Company, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Conservation Foundation, University of Alaska Fairbanks – Bristol Bay Campus, and many other community supporters, the course is offered free of charge to 12-15 students each year.
The Bristol Bay River Academy is a place-based river education course that fosters sustainable outdoor employment opportunities for Bristol Bay young people. Learn more at bristolbayriveracademy.org or on Facebook.
The Bristol Bay River & Guide Academy, now in its 7th year, prepares the next generation of community leaders in southwest Alaska with the knowledge, values and skills necessary to uniquely engage in salmon conservation issues in their communities, and take advantage of long-term, sustainable employment opportunities within the sportfishing economy.
Recreational fishing, and the visitors it brings to the region, are an important part of Bristol Bay’s renewable resource based economy generating $160 million dollars each year and supporting 1,400 jobs. Currently many of these jobs go to workers from outside Alaska. The Academy is working to stregthen economic ties to local communities by preparing local young people, with in-depth local knowledge of the rivers, fish and conservation issues, for these jobs. The positive impacts of this change would be far reaching, including: visitor revenue staying in local communities, decreased unemployment, more involvement from visitors in issues facing southwest Alaska residents and fish, and more collaboration between commercial, recreational and subsistence communities.
Currently the Bristol Bay River & Guide Academy is the only local training opportunity available for Bristol Bay residents interested in pursuing jobs in the recreational fishing industry. Studies indicate that Bristol Bay residents overwhelmingly want renewable resource based jobs. The Academy fills an important community employment needs as well as strengthening the link between local conservation issues and visitors to the region.
What is the BBRGA?
Each year we accept 12-15 students (ages 15 to 24) from southwest Alaska into the program. They spend a week, free of charge, immersed in lodge and guide life, learning from experts in the fishing and guiding industry. They learn how to fly fish, tie flies, customer service skills, outdoor safety and first aid, the rigors of guiding life, and about river ecology. They also talk with local community leaders, biologists and elders and how to enrich a visitors experience through their own stories and culture and explore topics in river ecology and conservation. Trout Unlimited and Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust staff and volunteers mentor students after the Academy to link them with jobs and internships.Outcomes
The Academy has graduated 58 students since the program began eight years ago. Nine graduates have landed jobs after the Academy, and we expect that number to continue to grow. In addition to being prepared for local jobs, students are well equipped with the knowledge to teach others about salmon, fishing and local salmon conservation challenges. The program has already more than doubled the number of guiding jobs going to local residents and increased collaboration and coordination between local communities, and sport and subsistence fishermen. Lodges throughout Bristol Bay are seeing the benefit of local hire.