Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Future Fishermen

At press time, the country is enveloped in a heat wave that’s reaching all the way to Alaska, where the youngest Philips learned all about picking fish from a gillnet on Bristol Bay this season. She reports a couple of 80-plus degree days in Egegik, and several very busy days, but lots of slow days as well. At 14, she hasn’t yet decided what she wants to do with her life, and she’ll most likely not make a career of fishing, but we’re glad she had the opportunity to experience a little of what our faithful readers do.

Short of sending kids to work in Alaska, how will the industry replace all the fishermen who are retiring? The average West Coast fisherman is in his late 50s, and the industry desperately needs a new group of committed individuals with boat-handling skills and the temperament to work long hours under difficult conditions. Those kids are out there… how does one introduce them to the industry?

One way is through the outreach of the local fishermen’s festivals, including the Commercial Fishermen’s Festival in Astoria, Oregon ( on September 14th and 15th, where this year’s event will include the model boats of Canadian model builder Ron Burchett.

Ron is well known around the maritime community as the guy with the big pool and the remote-control boats. The display draws kids of all ages, and for years he could be found at commercial maritime shows along the West Coast. His models are amazing in their level of detail and craftsmanship.

But to dismiss him as a toy builder is to miss several layers of Ron Burchett’s character. Ron grew up with tugs, workboats and fishing boats, and has extensive experience as both a seafarer and shipyard engineer. The boats he builds aren’t actually toys – they’re working models built to test seakeeping, efficiency and stability, and his “day job” is to build these boats as tank-test models for very big international companies that spend millions of dollars on fishing and work boats. His models have working scale model drive systems, controllable pitch propellers and Kort and Nautican systems. Ron’s talents are used by major tugboat companies and seafarer training institutions worldwide, and his knowledge of the industry, inside and out, is encyclopedic.

This year, Ron is providing resources to show the kids in attendance how the fishing industry works. He’ll have around 20 fishing boat models on hand, including a seiner that launches a remote-controlled seine skiff, deploys a net in a circle, closes the purse and then retrieves the net, all by remote control. Also on hand will be models of crab boats, including some famous TV boats, that can launch and retrieve crab pots. Ron says he’ll even have a US Coast Guard enforcement vessel on hand with lights and loudhailer.

Ron hopes other model builders will participate as well, and is offering space in the pool to show off your vessel to the future fishermen. He can be reached via email at or call him at 778-987-4201 if you have a model fishing boat you’d like to show off. It’s for the kids.

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