Story last updated at 12/19/2012 - 3:02 pm
Making some easy changes to a boat's deck layout, or simply modifying knives and scrapers can reduce the strains, sprains and pains of fishing. Doing so is applying the science of ergonomics.
"Ergonomics is the science of adapting your workplace, your tools, equipment and work methods to be more efficient and comfortable and error free by humans. It's basically how a human body interacts with their work environment," said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Sitka-based the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA). AMSEA is using a $100,000 OSHA grant to design an ergonomics program that "fits the work to the user instead of forcing the user to fit the work."
The goal is to reduce the muscular and skeletal disorders that are pervasive in the fishing jobs," Dzugan said. "When I used to fish, and everyone I know who fishes, can all tell me about their carpal tunnel, their tendonitis, their shoulder problems or their lower back problems."
Data from the Alaska Fishermen's Fund show that 40 percent of all claims are due to strains and sprains, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
The AMSEA program will show how those injuries happen, proper lifting and moving techniques, and how simple stretching exercises before going out on deck can minimize the impact of repetitive motions and hard work. It also will show how to make deck space more ergonomically friendly, and how modifying tools of the trade can help.
"Having a tool that fits your hand instead of making your hand fit the tool," Dzugan said. "Things like knives with angles so you can keep your wrist in a neutral position, or fish scrapers that have the bend in the scraper, not in your wrist. All those things make a big difference on tendonitis and carpal tunnel."
The ergonomics program will be tacked on to safety drills and training by AMSEA instructors, who also will work with local physical therapists to include the techniques. The new ergonomics program will launch early next year.
"We're looking forward to getting it out to the fleet," Dzugan said, "and getting feedback and fishermen's ideas."
Big opportunities for herring - The roe herring quota at next spring's first fishery at Sitka Sound could drop by 60 percent next year to just over 11,000 tons if survey numbers hold true. That's down from nearly 29,000 tons last March, although the actual catch was a lackluster 13,500 tons. Also plummeting have been Alaska herring prices - virtually all the roe goes to Japan and that market has shrunk considerably in recent years. Lower inventories in Japan mean prices are ticking up slightly from the 58 percent decline in the dockside value for roe in herring in 2011. For Sitka, that meant a drop from over $800 a ton to under $300 a ton; at Kodiak prices went from $440 to $220 and from $350 to $164 at Togiak. Alaska's herring fisheries occur into June all along the westward coast to Norton Sound.
A fascinating new report by the Juneau-based McDowell Group points out that although Alaska is the world's second largest producer of Pacific herring (following Russia), with annual harvests of roughly 40,000 tons, it accounts for just 1 percent of global production. In Alaska, the only real value comes from the roe-bearing female fish, meaning fully half of the catch - the males - is worth next to nothing. The male herring are mostly ground into fish meal, and may actually cost processors and fishermen more than the fish meal is worth.
"Male herring are regarded as a cost of doing business in sac roe fisheries...It is estimated that 11,800 short tons, or 23.7 million pounds, of male herring were taken in Togiak and Kodiak sac roe fisheries in 2011," the report said.
It's much different for the world's leading herring producer - Norway, where harvests can top one million tons a year. Fishermen there averaged 47-cents a pound in 2012 as nearly all of Norway's herring are sold fresh or frozen, smoked, pickled or preserved for human consumption. Only about one percent of Norway's herring harvests are turned into fish meal or oil.
The McDowell report said frozen herring fillets can range from $1.04 to $1.35 per pound, and some canned can fetch prices equivalent to that of canned Alaska salmon. The report said if male herring from the Kodiak and Togiak fisheries were made into frozen fillets the wholesale value last year would have been about $15 million.
Catch ups and downs - Last week the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved next year's catch limits for Alaska's largest fisheries - pollock, cod, flatfish, rockfish, perch and other species collectively called groundfish. Some highlights for the 24 different fish under the Council's purview:
Alaska 2013 groundfish catches:
Alaska Pollock: 1.2 million metric tons (about 3 billion pounds), a 5 percent increase in the Bering Sea. Another 267 million pounds of Pollock will come from the Gulf of Alaska, a 4 percent increase.
For Pacific cod in the Bering Sea, the catch is down slightly to 260,000 metric tons (500 million pounds). Cod catches in the Gulf took a sizeable hit to just over 133 million pounds, down nearly 8 percent.
Catches for Alaska sablefish (black cod) will decline in both regions: in the Bering Sea a take of 3,700 metric tons (8 million pounds) is down 13 percent; in the Gulf, the sablefish quotas of 27.5 million pounds is a 3.5 percent decrease.
All combined, Alaska's 2013 groundfish catches total nearly 2.5 million metric tons, or about 5.4 billion pounds of fish - more than all of the U.S. states combined.
Fishing life photos! The deadline is Dec. 31 to submit photos that highlight the fishing life to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). Winners in five categories get an Apple iPad. ASMI will use the photos in its multi-media outreach to 21 countries. Enter and upload photos at photocontest.alaskaseafood.org/.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.