Job programs help fishermen chart future

Increasing goverment control on fisheries strike at need for fishermen to retrain

By FELIX CARROLL
STAFF WRITER Cape Cod Times 4/28/99
PROVINCETOWN - Bob Cahill, a lobsterman for 25 years, has no intention of leaving the sea indefinitely. "I got salt water in my veins," he said. But he is among the many fishermen held to shore more than he would like because of dwindling fish stocks and closings of fishing grounds. "I got to have more income," said Cahill, 51. He's considering a new career, maybe in the field of conservation. Cahill was one of eight Provincetown fishermen who attended a meeting last night at town hall sponsored by the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership and the Job Training and Employment Corporation's Fishing Family Assistance Center, located in Hyannis.

Funded through state and federal grants, the agencies are providing fishermen and their families with career counseling, job re-training, and help with job placement and health care. "The industry has been devastated," said Joan Rezendes, spokeswoman for JTEC. "A lot of the fishermen have lost their income. They're not necessarily totally unemployed, but it has been such a cut that they can't live up to the standards that they're used to." The assistance center provides eligible fishermen with up to $8,000 for career retraining.

More than 250 fishermen have been served by the family assistance center this year, Rezendes said. Cape fishermen have been re-trained for careers in everything from computers to truck driving, culinary arts to environmental jobs. "One guy got certified in one week in paintless dent repair. Now he's making more than any of us," said Melissa Weidman, an employment and training counselor for the center. To be eligible for assistance, you must earn at least half of your income from fishing or working in a fishing-related industry. The criteria for eligibility has eased in the three years since the program first began, Weidman said. She urged fishermen who were denied eligibility in the past to reapply. Eligible fishermen are virtually guaranteed a job, said David Bergeron, coordinator for the Fishermen's Partnership. "You don't have to have any idea what you want to do," he said. "You come in ... and you leave with a job." As for health care assistance, the Fishing Partnership currently has an open enrollment until June 18 for applications for comprehensive health care coverage. Premiums vary based on income. More than 1,300 people are currently enrolled. It's first come, first served.

All eligible fishermen, regardless of prior health status, will be accepted into the plan. "The government has recognized the industry is in a crisis, and we have to do something," said Weidman. "This is all a step." JTEC has received more than $12 million in government funding to aid fishermen. For information on the health plan, call the Fishermen's Partnership, (888) 282-8816. For job retraining and job placement assistance, call the Fishing Family Assistance Center, (800) 656-FISH.