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Safety in Alaska's Crab Fisheries

It's probably fair to say that the New Year's Eve sinking of the F/V Scandies Rose and loss of five crew has shaken folks up in the fishing industry in Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News published an article today, examining how the safety culture has changed within the industry after a decades long push by regulators to improve safety. ADN quotes Alaska U.S. Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator, Scott Wilwert, “There was a time in the ’70s and ’80s where, I think, even the fishermen would tell you that there was a mentality, that ‘you have to go out but you don’t have to come back’ kind of thing...That just doesn’t exist, nobody thinks that way anymore.”

That's all for the better. Attitudes have changed. Technology has improved safety equipment and electronics. But, the sea has not changed and as Wilwert observes, "The hazards are endless." There's not much that we know about this accident and its causes. We'll have to wait for the Coast Guard to conclude their investigation to get a fuller picture. While the Bering Sea crab fleet routinely fishes in what are some of the worst weather conditions of any fishery, all fishermen are subject to the hazards of the sea. Regardless of your fishery, there are a number of things you can do to improve the odds of your crew and you surviving a vessel disaster:

  • Maintain your safety equipment according to the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations;

  • Keep your boat's survival gear in locations known to all aboard;

  • Ensure that everyone on board knows how to use the boat's survival equipment and when;

  • Regularly drill you boat's emergency procedures to ensure your crew's readiness.

If you haven't already taken an AMSEA Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor class, sign up to our Class Waiting List and get an email message when we schedule a class in your area. If it's been five or more years since you last attended a Drill conductor class, take refresher training. Studies have shown that the skills you learned deteriorate over time. You need to be prepared when things go badly. As Wilwert was quoted by ADN, "...anything can happen at any time...The sea can be very unforgiving.” Note: Scott Wilwert serves on AMSEA's Advisory Board.

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