Last year, Alaska commercial fisheries saw a record zero fishing deaths.
“For 2017, so far it seems like a tragic year for fishing vessel fatalities and we’re just a little more than halfway through the year,” say Devin Lucas, an occupational safety scientist for NIOSH in Anchorage. “Hopefully there aren’t any more. It does seem to be the wrong direction to keep the decreasing trend going.”
The other four deaths took place in May, June and July.
In May, a man went overboard on the fishing vessel Dances with Clams in the Copper River Delta. Two fishermen were lost in June with the Miss Destinee capsized in Marmot Bay off Kodiak Island.
Then in July, another person overboard happened in Ugashik Bay aboard the Lady Colleen.
As Lucas mentioned, fishing deaths in Alaska have been trending downward. The trend has been taking place since the 1990s.
Still, year-to-year incidents vary widely.
“Whenever you’re dealing with numbers that are relatively small, there’s cycles of high and low,” says Jerry Dzugan, executive director of Sitka-based nonprofit Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. “It’s hard stuff to study because of all these compounding variables that affect it.”
Some of the variable he mentions include weather, fish abundance and the price of fuel.
“This year—a new theory of mine—we had a lot of fish coming in in the salmon industry. When you’re in that much abundance of fish, there’s a tendency to overload because you’ve got so many fish,” Dzugan says. “Overloading obviously is a risk, sleep deprivation is a risk … and when there’s money coming in—ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching—who wants to stop?”
The Coast Guard says there is no “specific answer” for why fishing deaths spike, but fortunately the trend is going in the right direction.