Sisters Maddie Lightsey and Molly Bowen grew up around the Alaska Boats and Permits office in Homer, Alaska - watching their dad Doug and his team broker boats, IFQs and permits for the commercial fishing industry. These savvy young ladies have stepped into the family business and are now helping Alaska's fishermen start their own fishing operations, buy their dream boats, invest in permits, plan for retirement and more. Read on to learn more about how Maddie, Molly and the ABP team get it done.
First, please describe Alaska Boats and Permits and the service it provides (for folks who may not know). Tell us about the team and the workplace too!
We are a full-service marine brokerage firm in Homer, Alaska. We broker and facilitate the sale of commercial fishing vessels, permits, and quota. We’re a family run business through and through. Our dad, Doug Bowen, owns the company, Maddie’s husband Cody works with us, and their two kids are often running around the office. Annie has been with the company about 18 years - she’s definitely part of the family. Glenn recently retired, but he’ll always be part of the family, too.
When did you start working at Boats and Permits? What are both of your roles?
Maddie started in 2016 and works on IFQ sales and boat sales. Molly started about a year ago and focuses mostly on boats.
You both grew up in and around the office because your dad worked there when you were kids - and still does today. Do some parts of your jobs feel second nature to you, because you’ve been around the business for most of your lives? What are they? Tell us how you both made the decision to work for Alaska Boats and Permits, and what skills are most helpful on the job.
Some of it is definitely second nature. The fishing world, especially buying and selling things like quota, can seem like its own language, but it’s a language we grew up speaking. But, there was still a steep learning curve and the industry is always changing.
I think Dad always secretly hoped that we’d take an interest in the business. We both left Homer after high school to attend college and travel. After living in other places and exploring the world, we both came to realize that Homer was home. Dad made it clear that we always had a place at ABP, and in time we took him up on the offer.
We work with people all day, so communication and patience are big ones! We talk to hundreds of people every week and show boats, so being a “people person” is key. We photograph boats and build boat listings, so there are some tech skills required. We also work with dozens of federal and state agencies and lenders, we handle contracts and applications, escrow, title searches and lien payoffs, and marine documentation, just to skim the surface. There’s a lot going on with each client and each sale, so most days it feels like a juggling act, keeping track of paperwork, crunching numbers, moving money. We are also a resource for our clients, so we’re expected to keep up with industry regulatory changes. Being able to wear many hats is very important!
We know what it’s like to work with our parents and sisters and husbands on the water, and couldn’t imagine it any other way - all joys and challenges included. How is it working together for you? How do you best support each other? What are the family dynamics like at work?
We have so much fun together! It’s not without its challenges, especially when you throw in some toddlers to the mix. But we are so grateful to get to spend time with each other and to enjoy coming in to work. We all get along well, and we’ve found a system and dynamic that works for us. Our dad is definitely the best boss we could ever ask for. We laugh a lot. Having a sense of humor is important! It’s a very encouraging and supportive atmosphere. Things can get really stressful and sometimes a sale doesn’t go the way you want it to, but we’re all pretty good about keeping up morale. Some well-timed sarcasm helps, too.
You get to work with people buying their first boat, which is a big life event for most people! It’s exciting, scary, and fraught with risk and potential for most fishermen. What’s the process like on your side of these transactions? What’s it like working with fishermen?
This is our favorite part of the job, by far. Fishermen are great to work with because they’re authentic, hardworking, and ambitious. Helping someone buy their first boat is a responsibility we take seriously because there is a lot of risk and emotion involved.
On our end, we work to help the fisherman find the boat that’s best for them. That means answering a lot of questions, tracking down information, facilitating surveys, etc. We negotiate the sale, put together paperwork, and then it’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that isn’t as glamorous, like paying off mortgages and working with lenders.
What’s the most rewarding part of working in Alaska’s fishing industry?
The fishing community itself is just incredible, and we’re fortunate to be a part of it. We have the BEST clients in the world. The relationships we have with fishermen are invaluable. One of the best parts of the job is when clients come in just to chat. Sometimes they bring smoked salmon or pickled octopus, homemade bread or homegrown potatoes. Sometimes they walk in just off the boat with a fresh fish hooked on their finger! We learn so much from our clients: everything from bee-keeping tips to dock prices to the best pot gear to how to keep African violets. Many clients we’ve been working with for so long that we end up getting to work with 3 generations in the same family.
What advice or handy secrets would you give to a young fisherman investing in a boat, a permit, or quota? What do you wish they knew?
Advocate for your fishery! The best way to protect your investment is to advocate for the fishery you’re investing in. Not just from an environmental standpoint, but from a regulatory perspective as well.
When it comes to boats, do you have a favorite? Please describe.
Clean ones! Our favorite boats are those that are clearly loved and well cared-for. Sometimes we list boats that are just pristine. Other times we list boats that are in disarray, which makes it harder to appreciate the boat’s value, and certainly harder to sell it.
In terms of design, some of our favorite boats are the local, Russian built boats. The attention to detail, the use of space, the lines, the spaceship-esque interiors. They’re beautiful boats.
For both of you - what has growing up in a coastal community taught you and how has it defined your values or ambitions?
Growing up in a coastal community has taught us a lot about balance and interdependence. The marine ecosystem supports everyone here, not just fishermen, and we all have a responsibility to protect it. For us, that means advocating for sustainable fisheries management plans and fish-friendly environmental agendas.
If fishermen have questions about buying or selling boat/permits, where can they find answers or resources?
Call us! We are always happy to answer questions and point people in the right direction. Also, Alaska SeaGrant has an amazing website called FishBiz, which is awesome for establishing business plans and making sure your purchase will pencil out.
What’s the #1 thing you love doing when you’re not working?
Beachcombing with the kiddos!
Learn more about selling and buying boats and permits at Alaska Boats and Permits, and give Maddie and Molly a call if you have questions about the process: (800) 992-4960.
Listen to Maddie and Molly's dad Doug talk brokering vessels, IFQs and limited entry permits on The Alaska Show podcast.