A new National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report says a US Coast Guard decision to begin crab vessel dock checks was a major factor in greatly improved safety for crew working in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island fisheries.
The NIOSH report, released on April 14, noted that back in the 1990s, the BSAI was the most hazardous commercial fishing in the United States, with 73 crew members killed on the job from vessel disasters, falls overboard, or on-board injuries.
Between the 2005/06 and 2012/13 crab fishing seasons, by comparison, there was one fatality among the 65 injuries in the fleet reported to the Coast Guard. The other 64 injuries ranged from minor to severe, but most were minor or moderate, according to their report.
While safety regulations in place at that time required vessels to carry lifesaving equipment, such as immersion suits and life rafts, the regulations did not address the issue of vessels overloaded with crab pots, a major cause of vessel disasters and deaths, the NIOSH report said.
That gap in safety regulations was partially corrected by the Board Guard in 1999 with the introduction of the “At-the-Dock Stability and Safety Compliance Check” program. Coast Guard personnel began checking crab vessels at Dutch Harbor prior to departure to ensure that each was loaded in compliance with their stability instructions. Fatalities dropped.
Also in 2005, the crab rationalization program approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council resulted in an extended fishing season, and smaller pot loads, and allowed for a more experienced and potentially less fatigued crew, the report said. Consolidation of the fishing fleet, from an average of 243 vessels from 2001 through 2004 to 78 vessels from 2005 through 2010 also played a role, according to the federal fisheries council.
The complete “Assessment of Safety in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island Crab Fleet” report is online at www.cdc.gov