Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Safe Year for AK Commercial Fishermen

For commercial fish harvesters in Alaska, it’s been a very safe year.

An article published online this month in Alaska Fish & Wildlife News notes that the US Coast Guard recently announced a milestone: No one in Alaska died commercial fishing in a vessel-related incident in the past year, for the first time.

That’s the federal fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015, writes Riley Woodford, an information officer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Although six commercial fishing boats sank in the summer of 2015, no one died. Between 1980 and 1988, an average of 31 fishermen died in Alaska each year.

Scott Wilwert, a fishing vessel safety expert with the Coast Guard, told Woodford that management practices have made fishing safer, the end of the famous derby-style halibut and crab fisheries in particular.

Wilwert also said fishermen in other fisheries in Alaska today are better equipped and better prepared, and there are also fewer people fishing, especially in what were traditionally the most dangerous fisheries.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, crab and halibut fishing were two of the most dangerous occupations in America, with short openers, harvesting in bad weather, overloaded boats and crews working to exhaustion.

Coast Guard dock inspections of crab boats, crab rationalization legislation and individual fishing quotas have helped change all that. A lot of problems in the derby-style crab and halibut fisheries were related to instability and overloading, but pre-season stability checks by the Coast Guard have improved safety.

When the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988 was implemented between 1990-and 1995, things like immersion suits and life rafts became required equipment and safety drills and first aid training were required for crewmembers.

And on Oct. 15, 2015, dockside exams became mandatory for all commercial vessels fishing beyond three miles from shore.

Credit also goes to the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, which teaches mariners how to deal with emergencies, use their gear, and assess risks, and that, said Wilwert, is making a difference.

The complete article is online at

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