KODIAK - The shipping industry and the Seafarers International Union are hoping some Alaska fishermen jump ship for the merchant marine when a steady paycheck and benefits start looking better than crew wages.
The union has a partnership with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and SEA Link, a work force recruiter, to find more mariners.
Some 100 Alaska youths already have participated in entry-level training programs at the SIU's Paul Hall Center for Maritime Education in Piney Point, Md., but fishermen with sea time are what the industry wants.
"Ten thousand places for able bodied seamen are begging to be filled as we speak," Mark Montero told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Sean O'Brien of the Labor Department said there are plenty of maritime-related positions in Alaska.
The state has supported efforts to relocate fishermen and loggers to the maritime industry for some time now, O'Brien said. The staging of troops and equipment for a possible invasion of Iraq has increased demand.
The plan is to send approximately 20 qualified applicants a month from Alaska to the SIU center in Maryland, according to the Labor Department. Workers with fishing boat experience receive a higher level of training, said Ralph Mirsky, director of SEA Link.
Federal money from the Workforce Investment Act pay for part of the vocational training. The SIU entry-level course, which includes room and board, is free. Training to pass advanced Coast Guard certifications and licensing exams is not.
In most cases, qualifying fishermen do not pay for a thing, including travel, O'Brien said.
With as little as a month's training and 60 days at sea, an experienced individual can get ordinary seaman certification, then come back and take the Coast Guard exam to work as able body seamen, he said.
All oceangoing vessels and some inland waterway ships hire merchant mariners.
Mirsky expects some to be offered jobs by the Military Sealift Command, a civilian shipping company that transports military cargo. As shipping to the Middle East increases, the potential is there for overtime and bonuses, he said.
Montero, who fished for 17 years and spent a number of years in Kodiak, was the first "displaced fisherman" to go through the program.
"For the fisherman, its a no-brainer," he said. "You can sell a 120 days a year to a shipping company to maintain benefits and still fish."