For only the second time since maritime accidents have been reported, the Alaska commercial fishing industry had zero fatal accidents. Experts say that changing regulations and greater precautions taken by fishermen are responsible for the positive safety trend.
A Downward Trend in Alaska Fishing Deaths
The U.S. Coast Guard reported zero fatalities in the year beginning October 1, 2021, and ending September 30, 2022. This is only the second time this has ever happened. The last year there were no fatal accidents was 2015. That same year, six commercial vessels sank, but no one died in these or any other incidents.
The second year without fatalities continues an ongoing positive trend: commercial fishing in Alaska is getting safer. The records indicate that 210 people died in the fishing industry in the state from 1990 to 1999. The number dropped to 107 between 2000 and 2010, nearly half as many.
The trend continued, with only 62 fatalities between 2010 and 2019. This period included the first-ever fatality-free fishing year in 2015. Now, 2021 is the second year on record with no deaths, a trend experts hope will continue.
What’s Behind Safer Fishing?
Experts in the industry cite two main reasons that fatalities have dropped: changing fishing regulations and a cultural shift among professional fishermen toward greater safety.
In past decades, many fishing vessels had very limited periods of time to collect as many fish or crabs as possible. It might be as little as six or seven days. This led to a rush of vessels and furious activity with safety coming second to bringing in a maximum haul.
Fishermen today are better able to choose when to go out and fish. They can avoid bad weather or risky conditions. They don’t feel the pressure to do as much as they can in a short amount of time in order to make a profit.
Another issue is increasing awareness of safety issues and changing culture in the industry. Fishermen are more willing to take precautions and prioritize safety than in the past. The Coast Guard offers dockside exams to help crew learn about safety regulations and gear, and more individuals are taking advantage of this.
The Dangers of Commercial Fishing
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Alaska is one of the most dangerous locations to do the job. The weather and water conditions are often bad. The water is cold. And, the nature of the fishing requires workers to use a lot of heavy equipment and gear.
While fatalities have decreased, fishing in Alaska’s waters is still extremely dangerous. Many people get injured, often severely, on the job each year. Changing policies, safety education and training, and a greater willingness of workers to put safety before profits are shifting the statistics but there is still much that can be done to make fishing safer.