Study: Why is Dungeness crab fishing a dangerous occupation?

crab pots

NORTH BEND, Ore. -- A new study from Oregon State University takes a look at why Dungeness crab fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country.

Less than 24 hours into last year's crabbing season, fishing vessel 'The Blazer' sunk off the Oregon coast.

Five crew members were brought safely to shore, but the Blazer still rests at the bottom of the ocean.

"Very eerie sight, seeing a boat go under," says Lt. Jesse Cremeans with Coast Guard Sector North Bend.

Cremeans was there. He says as fishermen prepare for the crabbing season the Coast Guard prepares for its busiest season.

"We all get kind of ramped up," Cremeans explains. "We're keeping a better eye on everything, seeing where the fishing fleet is so we know which areas we might be going out to. There's definitely more boats out on the water this time of year. The weather is usually a lot worse this time of year, water temperatures are colder, survivability is a lot more limited."

In a new study, researchers from Oregon State University collected data reported to the Coast Guard.

They found that the fatality rate among Dungeness crab fishermen is several times higher than the national rate for commercial fishing.

Some of the obvious dangers include the rugged Oregon coast and the unpredictable winter weather.

"Out here it changes in an instant," adds Cremeans. "You'll watch wave heights change by 10 feet in just an afternoon."

This particular study focused on non-fatal injuries.

"We suspect that not all injuries are reported so we do want to hear first-hand from fishermen," says OSU assistant professor Laurel Kincl.

Kincl and a team of researchers traveled up and down the west coast surveying fishermen about the risks associated with hauling heavy gear in freezing temperatures at all hours of the night.

"There's definitely a race for these guys," says Cremeans. "They're out there working fast, working hard. Some of these guys make their living just from the shore crab season, and they're out there trying to get as much as they can, as quick as they can."

The study shows that fractures to the upper body were the most commonly reported injury, followed by hypothermia, lacerations and amputations.

"The hope is that, by understanding what the circumstances are, eventually we can work with the fishermen to identify what they can do to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place," Kincl adds.

By the end of the project, researchers plan to come up with and test several interventions that could help reduce injuries among crab fishermen.

"We want to identify some things that might work, but we don't want to tell them what to do," Kincl said. "We want to let them decide what would be most helpful."

After analyzing their findings, Kincl says they plan to lead additional focus groups along the west coast, including Charleston.

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