By Laine Welch
The nation’s most dangerous job could soon become more deadly. As Congress struggles to balance current and future budgets, fishing safety programs are on the cutting room floor.
The president’s FY2012 budget eliminates funding ($23 million) for all agriculture, forestry and fishing research (AgFF) done by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health , and it is likely to be trimmed from the FY11 budget being debated now.
“That means current fishing research would stop,” said Jennifer Lincoln, an Injury Epidemiologist with the Commercial Fishing Research and Design Program based in Anchorage. Funds for the fishing program are about $1.5 million, she added. NIOSH is not a regulatory agency, but a research organization established in 1970 to improve the safety and health of US workers. Today, NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Lincoln said there is a core group of 6 people who work within the fishing industry component of research.
In Alaska, NIOSH teams have created E-Stops, a simple system that prevents fishermen from becoming entangled in capstan winches, cited as the most dangerous piece of equipment on deck. Two manufacturers have pledged that all new winches will come with E-Stops installed.
In another study, over 200 Alaska fishermen tested different styles of PFDs (personal flotation devices) for a month during diverse fisheries, and rated the two they liked best. NIOSH is now working with manufacturers to include the fishermen’s recommendations in new PFDs.
NIOSH engineers also have partnered with Trident Seafoods and American Seafoods to develop a watertight hatch and door system that can be monitored from the wheelhouse. A low cost tank monitoring system also is under development. Most recently the NIOSH team discovered that Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishermen have the highest fatality rate than any other US fishery, due to men lost overboard. Lincoln will meet with shrimpers next month to find solutions.
If fishing industry research is cut from the budget, it would pull the plug on the Commercial Fishing Incident Data Base (CFID) that covers deaths and vessel losses for the entire country from 2000 through 2010.
“That data will be used to develop new safety compliance regulations that in a few years will be required for fishing vessels older than 25 years,” said Mark Vinsel, director of United Fishermen of Alaska. “We are concerned that the new rules will be based on outdated information.” A 2006 NIOSH review by the National Academies review separated the fishing program and called it ‘exemplary.’ The report said “the NIOSH Alaska Field Station has executed its research according to how an ideal program would operate.”
March 12 marked the start of halibut fisheries in Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific coast states. The coast wide catch limit of 41 million pounds is down 19 percent from last year. Alaska’s share of the catch is 32.5 million pounds, a drop of nearly 10 million pounds from last year.
The huge shortfall in supply has buyers scrambling for the popular fish – and they are prepared to pay for it. Talk on the dock a few days before the fishery pegged first deliveries at $6.50- $7.25 a pound, but no one was talking prior to the fishery. Said one big Kodiak buyer: Nobody wants to be the first to set a price, because everyone else will top it. The average statewide dock price for halibut last year was $4.86 per pound up almost 57 percent from the previous year.
Market watchers predict halibut prices are nearing a ceiling. Seafood Trend’s Ken Talley said the tale will be told at white tablecloth restaurants, where most of the fresh halibut goes. Only small amounts of frozen holdovers from 2010 are available going into the new season, he said.
Just over 2,100 quota share holders make up Alaska’s halibut longline fleet. Homer is always the top port for landings and can always pay the best prices, due to its road access. Kodiak or Seward rank second, followed by ports in Southeast. Dutch Harbor also ranks as one of Alaska’s top halibut spots. In fact, the largest halibut ever caught at 459 pounds was taken from Unalaska Bay. The halibut fishery ends Nov. 18.
Nothing can replace all the lessons learned on deck – but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little advance training, especially as fishing jobs become more competitive. Alaska Sea Grant is floating the idea of a professional fisherman’s training program designed to prepare recruits in coastal Alaska for the fishing jobs of the future. An online survey is gathering input from the industry.
“Do you think it would be important to have classes on marine safety, navigation, seamanship, vessel maintenance, engine repair, understanding regulatory processes, gear specific production techniques, business planning, financing and management. All of these subjects and more are on the slate to see if it actually makes sense,” said Glenn Haight, Fishing Business Specialist in Juneau.
He estimates the fishing course would include up to 15 classes for one year, and be tailored to individual needs. The course would provide an “occupational endorsement” to those who complete the training. Haight said the survey also asks if the training endorsement would be a valuable asset to skippers when making decisions about hiring crew.
Find the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/CommercialFishingTrainingProgram or www.alaskaseagrant.org.
The Hard Rock restaurant chain named Trident Seafoods as its Culinary Partner of the Year for 2011. The award recognizes “outstanding accomplishments and dedication to employees, franchisees and partners.” The “Rock Stars” were selected from more than 171 Hard Rock locations in 52 countries.
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