Alaska has unparalleled vistas, gorgeous wildlife, glaciers, mountains, rivers, streams, beaches, and so much more. The state boasts plant and animal life not found anywhere else in the world, much of which is marine in nature. That same marine wildlife is a boon for the state’s economy, drawing hundreds of commercial fishermen each year hoping for a big catch.
The waters of Alaska are not only full of vessels seeking a full haul of fish or crabs, they are also full of danger. Commercial fishing in Alaska has been called – and for good reason – one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. All aspects of fishing, everything from catching the fish to processing them for public consumption, can be risky, and facts compiled by the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH) Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prove it.
Data compiled by the NIOSH and CDC makes it clear: not only are the treacherous waters of Alaska dangerous, they are some of the most dangerous in the world. Alaska has several different fishing seasons, including salmon, cod, sole and crabs, all of which involve the usual marine fishing risks like sinking, losing power, and being swept overboard. Fishing in Alaska, though, comes with volatile weather conditions that have been known to produce rogue waves capable of taking down a vessel in minutes or overwhelm a ship with rainwater deluges so fast that pumps can’t keep up.
Alaska accounts for about 26 percent of annual fishing-related fatalities, and more than 130 deaths occurred in the state’s waters between 2000 and 2009, the most recent year for which NIOSH has released comprehensive data. There were several scenarios that produced the bulk of the fatal injuries for Alaska’s fishermen, including:
- On-deck accident/injury
- On-shore accident/injury
- Vessel disaster
- Diving injury
- Fall overboard
Keeping fishermen and other maritime workers safe
Data and recommendations from the NIOSH has already led to some important changes for the fishing industry, including the introduction of e-stop systems for on-deck winches and an improved slack-tank monitoring system, both of which can help prevent fatal accidents. Engineers with the NIOSH have also developed a hatch and door monitoring system and an improved personal flotation device (PFD) policy for fishing vessels that could possibly save the lives of crewmen washed overboard or who are unable to immediately access a lifeboat in the event of a sinking.