Heated arguments over fishing policy are nothing new, but evaluating them is harder when they’re based on incorrect information. A recent assertion that safety had not improved under the Alaska crab catch share program badly mischaracterizes the record. While that program is not perfect, safety has improved dramatically. This was the focus of the article below.
By John Sackton – Reprinted with permission from SeafoodNews.com
One of the claims made in Food and Water Watch's paper attacking catch share programs is that the safety benefit claimed for such programs is illusory.
Unfortunately for them, there is ample documentation and factual testimony to contradict that assertion.
One of the most dramatic results of the Bering Sea crab rationalization program has been a continued improvement in crab fishing vessel safety, which the Coast Guard says could not have been achieved through other methods.
For example, in the five year review of the crab program, completed in Oct of 2010, Jennifer Lincoln of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Coast Commander Christopher J. Woodley jointly wrote:
'The BSAI CR program has clearly demonstrated the ability to improve safety by making foundational changes which increase fishing time, reduce an emphasis on catching power, allow large, more efficient and safer vessels to remain in the fishery, and improve crew experience. These are areas that are typically difficult to control through Coast Guard safety regulations.'
In their paper, Food and Water Watch quotes some crew members from the Bering Sea Crab fishery saying 'These fishermen generally do not consider the fishery to be any safer, since
owners only hire a minimum number of crew members and have deadlines to meet for processors.'
One crew member said: 'They say it was for security purposes but people still die
every year. The only difference is that there are fewer boats now, so there are less people getting hurt. But they're doing the same work.'
This statement is simply factually untrue. According to the Coast Guard, between 2005 and 2010, there was only a single fatality in the Bering Sea crab fishery. This death was the result of a man overboard. People do not die every year.
In the previous five years prior to rationalization, there were 8 deaths, and in the period from 1995 to 2000, there were 22 deaths.
In fact, during the 1990's, the Bering sea crab fishery had an 'astronomical fatality rate of 770 fatalities per 100,000 full time fishermen', said the Coast Guard.