The most common piece of equipment on a fishing boat is also the most dangerous: the deck winch.
"Fishermen tell us it is the most powerful thing on the boat," said Ted Teske, a health communications specialist with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
"If that thing gets ahold of you when you're pursing a line or moving a line, it will not stop and it won't let go. It will end up tearing your arm off or breaking your neck or ripping you apart."
NIOSH research shows that a high number of traumatic fishing injuries come from entanglement in a rotating winch, especially on seine vessels. If a fisherman is working on deck and gets pulled into the winch, it pulls him away from the controls to stop it, which are mounted on the back of the wheelhouse. Teske helped develop a simple device called an E-Stop (emergency stop) that interrupts the flow of hydraulic fluid to the winch and locks it in place.
Teske said it is a simple mechanism used by a lot of manufacturing processes, such as production lines in the automotive industry. Many longline fishermen use an E-Stop to put the brakes on their gear if someone gets snagged and goes over, he added.
"It's mounted on top of the winch horns, so as you're pulled in, it's right there in front of you like a game show buzzer and you can slap it to lock the winch in place," he explained. "So you're still wrapped up but you're not going 'round and 'round multiple times, and crew members can come and reset the system and back the winch off to get you untangled."
James Burton of Cordova, skipper of the F/V Keta, knows firsthand how deadly the common tool can be. His brother, Carl, got caught in a winch in 2008 and will never regain full use of his arm and hand.
That accident prompted James to be the first in line for an E-Stop when they became available in 2008. In fact, his was the first boat to purchase and have one installed at Emerald Marine in Seattle, and it served as the model for a "how to" instruction manual for the distributor.
"The winches are so dangerous and I know so many people who have been hurt by one," Burton said. "Those things can pull 7,000 pounds, and if you have a 200-pound guy wrapped up in it, it doesn't slow down a bit and rips you apart in the process."
Burton said he feels disheartened that so few fishermen have opted for an E-Stop.
"I just don't know how to convince people to get something that makes so much sense. Everyone has excuses," he lamented. "The guys don't want to spend money on anything that's not going to catch them more fish or make things more efficient on their boat. It's so cheap compared to losing your life or a limb or having a couple fingers ripped off. We all know guys who have been caught in a deck winch, and for whatever reason, people still act like it's never going to happen to them."
Ted Teske said NIOSH is targeting Alaska's seine fleets to make them more aware of the E-Stop device, and plans to expand to other fisheries.
"It can stop not just a winch but any kind of hydraulically run equipment on a crabber or trawler," he said.
The E-Stop comes in an easy-to-install kit with all materials included. Teske said he is hopeful the kits will be available soon in fishing ports; right now they can be purchased for $2,850 only at http://www.go2marine.com/product.do?no=162904F.
Questions? Contact NIOSH/Anchorage at 907-271-2382 or www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/fishing.
MAP IN PERIL
Fully half of the state university's marine advisory programs are in danger of closing their doors within a year due to funding shortfalls.
"Five of the positions will be out of funding in the next year since they are paid solely with grant funds," said MAP director Paula Cullenberg. "They include Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska, Cordova and Petersburg. The sixth position is in Kodiak, an office that has been empty for 13 years."
The MAP program is requesting a $614,000 appropriation by the Alaska Legislature to fund the six coastal offices.
"That would represent a permanent commitment by the university to the position in each community and region." Cullenberg said.
A report by First Research in the U.K. says that the U.S. seafood processing sector consists of about 650 companies, with annual revenues of $9 billion. There are roughly 2,500 U.S. seafood distributors, with yearly revenues of $12 billion. Neither sector is very concentrated, the report says.
The largest processors include Connors Brothers/Bumble Bee Foods, Los Angeles-based Red Chamber, Trident Seafoods and Maruha Nichiro's U.S. companies, which include Alyeska and Western Alaska Seafoods. All together, the 50 largest processors account for about 45 percent of all sales, while in the distribution sector, the 50 largest seafood distributors account for about 33 percent of total sales.
Product revenues are led by frozen fish at 30 percent, frozen shellfish at 20 percent and fresh fish and shellfish at 15 percent; canned seafood also accounts for 15 percent of the total products sold.
Speaking of selling products: Safeway, one of the nation's largest grocery retailers, is the latest to opt for Earth-friendly fish. The company is starting a traceability system to screen out suppliers of seafood products not meeting its new sustainable seafood policy. Safeway also is discontinuing the sale of any fish that are deemed to be overfished, such as grouper, red snapper and monkfish.
Finally, numbers are trickling in for the world's No. 1 sustainable fish: Alaska salmon. At the famous Copper River fishery, state managers project a good sockeye run with a catch of nearly 1.3 million fish. If the red run comes in on target, it would be the 10th largest in 20 years.
Not so for kings -- a run forecast of just 31,000 fish would be the second lowest since 1999 and it would yield a catch of 17,000 Copper River kings. The Copper River fishery opens in mid-May.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your Web site or newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.