Alaska sees another fiscal year of no fisherman deaths

Alaska sees another fiscal year of no fisherman deaths
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 6:09 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Wicked waters with bone-chilling winds and freezing temperatures often greet fishermen when they are on the frisky Alaskan seas. Their conditions, according to the CDC, make them a hazardous working environment. And when an error occurs, it can be trickier.

“Everything is magnified here when something does go wrong,” Scott Wilwert said, the Coast Guard’s Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator. “How you react to it is largely what usually determines how you make it through it.”

For decades, the dangerous conditions at sea have haunted the Alaska fishing industry, one of the deadliest industries in the state, according to the CDC. When commercial fishing boomed in the 1980s, it became apparent — according to the CDC — that the commercial fishing industry was a prime contributor to Alaska’s very high occupation fatality rate. From 1980 to 1988, Alaska saw an average of 31 fishermen dying yearly, according to the CDC. However, over the past three decades, those numbers have started to drop.

“There’s a seriously downward-sloping trend of operational fatalities in the fishing industry in Alaska from 1990 to today,” Wilwert said.

Between the fiscal years of 1990 to 1999, the state saw a total of 210 commercial fishing deaths, according to Wilwert. By the fiscal decade of 2010 to 2019, that number dropped down to 67. Since then, Wilwert said they have only seen 10 deaths.

The 2022 fiscal year, however, marks a milestone for the Alaska Commercial Fishing Industry — the second fiscal year with no commercial fishing industry deaths.

“You really want to start that clock from July 1st of ‘21 to today, we’re really on about a year and half which is fantastic,” Wilwert said.

Wilwert said that the new trend is due to the industry changes, such as requiring mandatory dockside examinations for vessels that operate three miles from the Territorial Sea baseline, ships switching to operating on a rationalized or quote approach and the mentality and culture surrounding safety in the industry.

The changes to the industry have spurned changes within it as well.

“A marked difference in the culture. In just the way safety is embraced,” Wilwert said.

Wilwert said this will be the first calendar year ever in Alaska’s history the industry saw no commercial fishing industry deaths.