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A Scary Story About Sleep Deprivation

Sleep-deprived commercial fisherman

It's not Halloween, but we just heard a scary story we feel compelled to share. Alaska radio station, KDLL, recently ran a news story by reporter, Sabine Poux, on AMSEA's work with the Northeast Center, studying sleep deprivation in commercial fisheries. That news story focuses on the known health and safety effects of sleep deprivation and the equation fishermen must balance between catching more fish and catching enough sleep. Poux's story prompted a listener to contact us regarding her own experience with sleep deprived fishermen.

On June 15, 2015, I nearly died in a terrifying vehicle collision on the Sterling Highway north of Homer. A pickup, going full speed in the wrong lane, hit my compact car. The driver (and his passenger) were commercial fishermen asleep as the truck hurtled along. Here is a direct quote from the email I sent to my family at the time:

"It turns out that the driver of the pickup was asleep! His passenger told me that they had been commercial fishing for halibut for 4 days and nights, and thought they could drive home 80 miles north. The driver was a gentleman and apologized profusely. When we talked, the passenger said it is possible that hitting me might have saved their lives. Along that highway, they could have hit a huge commercial truck, a tree, or even driven over a cliff. Or they could have hit a different vehicle head on and killed somebody."

An eyewitness who stopped to help said the pickup almost hit him.

Miraculously, none of us were injured. However, my car was totaled, and the pickup substantially damaged. The fisherman hit me hard enough to snap the rear axle. If the timing had differed by a second, he would have t-boned my car in the driver's door and killed me instead of hitting the back of the car...

Thank you for the work you do, and I pray that all the fishermen get home safely!

We understand the pressure that commercial fishermen face to produce as many pounds of fish as possible during short fishing periods and frequently lousy weather. The purpose of NEC's study on sleep deprivation is to better understand the factors that contribute to sleep deprivation and learn what can be done to manage them, so that fishermen can have longer, healthier lives and careers. In the meantime, we "pray that all the fishermen get home safely."

Car wrecked by commercial fisherman, asleep at the wheel.
Car wrecked by commercial fisherman, asleep at the wheel.


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