R.J. Kopchak, a commercial fisherman, comes in with his catch from the Copper River in Cordova, Alaska.
Flicker | Sam Beebe
A team of University of Washington researchers is studying the overall fitness and health risks faced by gillnet fishermen along Alaska’s Copper River, famous for its salmon. The study will collect data including sleep management and fatigue, hearing loss, and high blood pressure.
Researchers will examine the health habits of commercial fishermen before and during the fishing season with the aim of finding ways to improve their health, according to Dr. Debra Cherry, an associate professor of general internal medicine and adjunct associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UW School of Public Health. She directs the UW’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency program.
“They are a rugged, independent people that face a lot of health risks,” Cherry said in describing the fishermen to The Cordova (Alaska) Times.
Volunteer participants will begin by taking a 20-minute survey and participating in a brief test to measure heart rate. Follow-up physical exams will be given in July to a subset of the volunteers, while another subset will be monitored by Fitbits during the fishing season.
The pilot project is funded by the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center at the School of Public Health. The center receives funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The pilot project ends in September, Cherry said, but researchers plan to apply for funding to continue this work.
In a previous study in 2013, UW researchers reviewed non-fatal injuries in commercial fishing from the U.S. Coast Guard and insurance claims. Wrists and hands were the most commonly injured body parts from work processes such as bringing in the nets and sorting the fish, according to Cherry.