National Fisherman

Despite technological advances, fatalities in commercial fishing have not changed significantly in the last few years.

From 2000 to 2009, 131 commercial fishermen died on the job. Half died due to drowning after vessel disasters, and another 31 percent resulted from falls overboard, according to a report from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Alaska Pacific Office.

Alaska Pacific Office Director Jennifer Lincoln said the magnitude of fatalities hasn’t changed in the last few years, and the statistics are similar to the trends from 2000 to 2009.

In addition to collecting the statistics, the office works to mitigate the underlying issues.

But recently, NIOSH itself has needed saving.

NIOSH’s commercial fishing safety arm was slated for the chopping block in a proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, but survived when Congress used a continuing resolution for government spending instead of adopting the president’s proposal.

Then, the president had proposed cutting $22 million for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Program, of which about $1.5 million was designated for the commercial fishing safety program. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC.

However, under the continuing resolution, the program was funded at the same level as the year prior, although it was subject to sequestration.

Sequestration cuts came out of the department’s non-essential air travel, and did not affect research operations, Lincoln said.

The year before that, fiscal year 2012, NIOSH was also scheduled for cuts. Industry support convinced legislators to reinstate the money.

Funding has yet to be decided for the 2014 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The president’s proposed budget once again calls for cuts, but a version from Congress would not eliminate the money.

Ultimately, NIOSH must wait for a budget to pass to know what the funding level will be, said Public Affairs Officer Christy Spring.

The Alaska Pacific Office is responsible for fishing vessel safety nationwide, despite its Alaska location.

As long as the program lives, it is continuing its work to try to save fishermen’s lives — and right now, lifejackets are a major focus of that effort.

Falls overboard are the second largest cause of death in fishermen, Lincoln said. Only one of the 191 fishermen who died between 2000 and 2012 was wearing a lifejacket, Lincoln said.

“A PFD doesn’t guarantee survival, but it certainly increases the chances of surviving a fall overboard,” Lincoln said.

Read the full story at the Alaska Journal of Commerce>>

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