PUBLISHED: 5:08 PM on Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Fishermen asking for health care
Fishermen are asking Congress to re-establish health care coverage for American fishing families as lawmakers retool the nation's top fisheries law - the Magnuson Stevens Act - in Washington D.C.

Beginning in 1799, fishermen aboard U.S. registered fishing vessels were provided health care coverage, but that was stopped in 1981. Following on a successful Massachusetts' program that provides affordable health care for fishing families, fishermen are asking that the MSA include a national health care demonstration program for the nation's fleet.

Language to create such a program was introduced in legislation, HR 4940 Section 4(e), by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA).

Groups that are watch dogging the measure said the MSA reauthorization will be a long and complicated process. "It's important to keep your eye on the prize. The fishing industry health care coverage language must be included in the final version," said J.J. Bartlett, director of the Fishing Partnership Health Plan in Massachusetts. Since 1997, the Fishing Partnership Health Plan has provided access to high quality, affordable health care coverage to Massachusetts fishing families. Bartlett said it is "inspiring" to see the stack of letters and faxes growing every day. "Fishermen from every gear sector and every port in the country are writing to support this initiative," he said in a phone interview.

"Now fishermen have a chance to bring health care coverage to fishing families across the nation," said Sara Randall of Commercial Fishermen of America. Find out more at

Seafood Cravings

How does seafood fare among the foods that Americans crave the most?

A nationwide survey by the American Cancer Society found that seafood ranked fourth, along with beef and meat.

The study, which was designed primarily to build awareness of the link between obesity and cancer risk, found that 56 percent of the respondents said they can't resist certain foods.

According to Intrafish, the survey measured responses by more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and over. Chocolate topped the list of cravings. Coming in at number two were pizza, pasta and Italian food, followed by cookies, cakes and muffins. Seafood, beef and meat filled up fourth place.

The survey found that 83 percent of Americans recognize the link of being overweight to heart disease, and 57 knew the link to diabetes.

On a related note - Canadian researchers have found that fish proteins can help prevent diabetes. In studies at Laval University, acids gleaned from cod and other whitefish boosted diabetics' sensitivity to insulin by up to 30 percent, compared to 16 to 25 percent for some popular oral medications.

Casting a Vote

With a tally of 410 'yeas' and 297 'nays', fishermen from Alaska's largest salmon fishery at Bristol Bay voted to tax themselves to fund their own regional marketing group.

The vote, released Friday by the state Commerce Department, represents 38 percent of Bristol Bay's 1,865 drift net permit holders. The tax could infuse between $700,000 and $1 million each year into programs and projects aimed at boosting the value of the Bay's salmon fishery.

Many state officials and industry insiders had predicted that there was "no way" Bristol Bay fishermen would ever agree to tax themselves to pay for the new RSDA concept.

Salmon drift fishermen in Southeast Alaska last week voted 107 to 91 against funding an RSDA. A total of 473 permit holders were sent ballots.

Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.