The two men died when the fishing vessel Advantage sank south of Kodiak Island. Gallegos disappeared at sea, while Bolan was rescued, only to die later. Two men survived the accident.
Incidents like these remind us of the dangers of going out to sea. While improved safety equipment and training have made commercial fishing safer, fishing remains the most dangerous job in America, even if Bering Sea crabbing no longer qualifies as the “deadliest catch.”
For that reason, we are alarmed by President Obama’s proposal to cut funding for the program that researches commercial fishing safety.
The president’s proposed budget cuts $1.5 million from the fishery safety program run by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, obliterating it.
A similar cut was proposed in Obama’s 2012 budget, but an outcry from fishermen and the public stopped that action.
NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It does not add rules or regulations; it simply collects statistics on injuries and deaths, then tries to reduce those figures through training and equipment.
Earlier this year, NIOSH visited Kodiak to show off an iPhone application that can analyze the rocking of a boat to determine if high seas are pushing that boat toward capsizing.
Other programs have increased the use of personal floatation devices, and since NIOSH began its work, Alaska’s fishing death rate has dropped significantly. There’s no way to tell how much of that drop is attributable to NIOSH’s work, but we believe it is a significant contributor.
The loss of the Advantage and the deaths of two men are a tragedy and teach us a hard lesson. Fishing will never be perfectly safe, but we cannot dodge the responsibility to make it as safe as possible. NIOSH should be preserved.