KODIAK -- Surprise! It turns out that salmon fishing is the most dangerous fishery in Alaska and crabbing in the Bering Sea is the safest.
That is just one finding of a new report by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which tracked U.S. fishing deaths from 2000 through 2009. The report is the first ever to explore how hazards and risk factors differ among fisheries and locations.
Some findings: During 2000-2009, 504 commercial fishing deaths occurred nationwide. The Alaska region had the highest number at 133 (26 percent), followed by the Northeast at 124, the Gulf of Mexico at 116, the West Coast at 83, and the Mid- and South Atlantic with 41. Of those who died, 491 were male, and the average age was 41 years (the range was from 10 to 86 years).
Here's how people died: 261 (52 percent) after a vessel disaster, 155 (31 percent) by falling overboard, and 51 (10 percent) from an injury onboard. The remaining 37 deaths occurred while diving or on shore. Among the fishermen who fell overboard and died, none was wearing a personal flotation device.
The 261 deaths that resulted from a vessel disaster occurred in 148 separate incidents. Of these, 37 were initiated by flooding, 24 by vessel instability, and 23 by being struck by a large wave. Severe weather contributed to 61 percent of the 148 fatal vessel disasters.
The type of fishing was known in 478 fatalities, and shellfish ranked as the most dangerous with 226 deaths (47 percent), followed by groundfish with 144 and pelagic (mid-water) fishing with 97 deaths.
The fisheries with the highest number of fatalities were Gulf of Mexico shrimp (55), Atlantic scallop (44) and Alaska salmon (39).
That compares with a death toll of 12 Bering Sea crabbers during the same time. In fact, the Bering Sea crab fisheries can claim the lowest loss of life for all of the nation's major fisheries.
The crabbers credit the slower paced catch-share program that was implemented in 2005 for making the Bering Sea fisheries safer. Since then, only one life has been lost in the Bering Sea; there have been no vessel sinkings. Conversely, between 1991 and 2005, 26 vessels sank and 77 deaths occurred in the Bering Sea crab fisheries.
Alaska's manufacturing jobs
In Alaska, seven seafood processing companies account for 49 percent of the state's manufacturing employment.
According to an article in the state Labor Department's Alaska Economic Trends July issue, Trident Seafoods is Alaska's top seafood employer, No. 6 on the list of the state's top 100 private employers.
Also on the list: Icicle Seafoods at No. 28, Unisea at No. 30, Peter Pan at No. 39, Westward Seafoods at No. 41, Ocean Beauty Seafoods at No. 42, and North Pacific Seafoods at No. 69.
Trident provides between 2,250 and 2,499 jobs in Alaska, and North Pacific Seafoods puts 250 to 499 people to work each year.
By area, Trident is the largest private-sector employer in the Aleutians East Borough, the Bristol Bay Borough, the Kodiak Island Borough and the Lake and Peninsula Borough.
Unisea is the largest employer in the Aleutians West Area.
Icicle Seafood ranks No. 1 in the Dillingham census area.
Ocean Beauty Seafoods is the largest private employer in the Haines Borough, Icicle Seafoods in Petersburg, Kwik'Pak in the Wade Hampton census area and Yakutat Seafoods in Yakutat.
Unfortunately, most of the workers -- 74 percent -- are nonresidents who had average statewide total earnings in 2008 of $187 million.
Dude fishing a dud
Bristol Bay's so-called dude fishing program has been a dud so far.
The state Board of Fisheries gave the OK in 2006 for visitors to spend a day aboard a salmon boat to experience what fishing is really like.
But it's attracted few takers, said Fish and Game regional manager Tim Sands at Dillingham, and "only a couple of folks" have participated.
"One was my neighbor -- he wanted his kids to see what it was like so he took them out," Sands said.
Fishing dudes can get a seven-day crew license to fish aboard a permit holder's boat. They are limited to 25 fathoms of gear and can catch only a certain number of fish. Dude fishing can occur in June, or after the peak of the fishing frenzy in early July.
Sands said he is not sure why the dude fishing program has been a dud.
"I don't know how well it's been marketed or how many people know the opportunity is even there," he said.
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 website or newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.