While more than 38 million individuals hunt and fish recreationally, those who fish for a living often put their lives on the line, exposing themselves to potential dangers on the wild and unpredictable sea.
In 2005 alone, 15 people died in Alaska’s fisheries; many of these deaths occurred when their boats sank.
But last week, the U.S. Coast Guard reported to the North Pacific Fishery Council that in the last federal fiscal year, no one died on the job while commercial fishing in Alaska. For this highly dangerous industry, this is a first.
“This is the first year, going back as far as we have records, that we didn’t have what I’ll characterize as an operational-related death,” Coast Guard Captain Phillip Thorne, Chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard in Alaska, told Juneau Empire.
By Coast Guard definition, an operational-related death is a fatality that occurs during the act of fishing. This doesn’t includes deaths of fishermen while not on the job, or while the boat isn’t actively working.
Because of this, the no-death claim does come with a caveat or two.
“It’s a case definition issue,” said Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, who is in charge of monitoring fishing deaths for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
“Unfortunately, there are still fatalities in the fishing industry as NIOSH would define them.”
During this year, a handful of fatalities, ranging from alleged suicide to drug overdose, did occur within the industry. These cases are still being investigated, and aren’t typically associated with fishing accidents.
So why is there a decrease in fishing-related fatalities? Experts say that many factors are involved.
For one thing, the number of fishermen is actively declining. This is due to fisheries moving to consolidate, looking to satisfy quotas placed on individual fishermen rather than on entire fleets.
Additionally, the shift in quota focus has made fishing a slower act, allowing fishing vessels to make better decisions about weather and operations.