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Bristol Bay Fisheries Report: July 25, 2022

Sleeping fisherman.jpg
Photo by Nick Rahaim
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Joe Moran, deckhand on the Diamond V catches a cat nap. The typical schedule for the crew fishing in the Nushagak was two 2-3 hour naps per day

We don’t have numbers today. Fish and Game has ended its daily run summaries since the season is winding down. Its final in-season fish count will be posted around August 10, after the Togiak River counting tower comes down for the season.

Prices
We’re starting off the last week of the Fish Report with a look at the money.

For the second year in a row, Peter Pan Seafoods announced a base price before the season started. The first price was $1.00. Shortly after, it was raised to $1.15.

Bristol Bay fishers share their thoughts on the 2022 base price

Other Bristol Bay processors seem to have matched Peter Pan’s preliminary base price of $1.15 per pound for sockeye this season. KDLG’s Brian Venua talked to a few fisherfolks about their thoughts on that price tag.

KDLG's Brian Venua reports on Bristol Bay's base price of $1.15, and gets perspective from a couple fishermen.

Peter Pan: Base price of $1.15

OBI: OBI set an advance price of $1.15 for their fishers while the company figures out their base price.

Silver Bay: Most fishermen for Silver Bay Seafoods are getting around $1.40 and up after bonuses.

Copper River Seafoods: Copper River has posted a base price of $1.15, with a $0.10 bonus for bleeding and icing.

A heightened focus on sleep in commercial fishing

For the Bristol Bay fishing fleet, sleep is scarce during the short and fast paced sockeye season. But at what cost? Researchers and marine safety advocates say a lack of sleep can seriously impact people’s health and safety.

Tav Ammu has been fishing commercially in Bristol Bay for more than ten years. He says in the fishing industry there is a well-known tradeoff between sleep and making money.

“Every boat deals with it. Everyone is aware of it. But because it's such a such a financially beneficial fishery, that it's a price to pay the lack of sleep for the financial rewards from it," he said. "My dad would always say, ‘It's a very expensive nap that you're gonna take if you miss out on thousands of dollars of catch.’”

Research shows sleep deprivation increases the risk of injuries and impacts risk-assessment, memory, and coordination. It can also cause micro-sleeping — when you uncontrollably fall asleep.

Ammu said he’s woken up in a panic plenty of times after the watchmen fell asleep.

"When I was a crew, it happens pretty much every year that one of us would do a drifting dream, or one of us would take a watch and the others would sleep and the person on the watch would fall asleep," he said. "And then we frantically wake up right before drifting over the line, or right before mustaching a tender or another boat, and having to frantically round haul the net and pull it in.”

Fatigue and sleep deprivation have caused accidents and fatalities across commercial fisheries, including the 2012 F/V Maverick crash that resulted in the death of one crew member. The National Transportation Safety Board says fatigue may have contributed to the decisions that led to the sinking of the F/V Destination in 2017 that killed six people.

Jerry Dzugan is director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. AMSEA is partnering with a research team to look at the health of commercial fishermen. And sleep deprivation is front and center.

“The research project was to look at health concerns of fishermen, especially health concerns that might be unique to fishermen more often," he said. "So it was a pretty broad survey of people's health and status and then topics like sleep deprivation came up, or how to help people deal with those kinds of issues.”

Researchers with the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety interviewed over 200 commercial fishermen last year. They are now analyzing the findings and expect to release a report later this year.

Dzugan said fishing crews talked about strategies for dealing with sleep deprivation while on the job.

“Get a cat nap. And in terms of the science of healthy sleep, cat naps are good," he said.

Dzugan said even in those few hours, fishermen can sleep better in a dark environment with good ventilation. Reducing stress also helps.

“People mentioned that you always got proverbially one eye open, sort of, or one ear open to the noises on the boat like that — the cadence of the roll has changed if you're running or just the anchor sounds, make sure you're not drifting," he said. "Everybody knows when you're stressed out, you don't sleep really well.”

Sleep deprivation and chronic stress are linked to short and long term health problems, like diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It also impacts cognitive functions and can cause irritability, depression or hallucinations.

“One of my friends said he learned to make friends with the little Gremlins that were running around on the deck," he said.

Dzugan said the researchers compare common health issues among fishermen to issues in the general population.

“For particular age groups, do the fishermen have a higher incidence of diabetes than the standard population are cancers or heart disease and stroke? Things like that,” he said.

Fisherman Tav Ammu said this year, his crew had three hour sleep rotations to allow for better sleep and to create a safer environment.

“Safety and wanting to make better decisions," he said. "And then just better life while on the boat, don't really want it to be miserable for everyone and everyone to be angry and cranky and making poor decisions and possibly putting hands into winches or in lines or falling asleep while standing up or whatever. All of which I've done as a crew member, so I don't really want that for my crew.”

Ammu said it wasn’t a perfect schedule. Still, more sleep is worth it — even if it means forgoing some catch.

Dedication ceremony for the NN Cannery listing in the National Register of Historic Places

The 132-year-old Diamond NN Cannery is Alaska’s longest-running fish processing facility. It operated from 1895 until 2015. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places last year.

That listing was recognized at a dedication ceremony in South Naknek during last week’s Fishtival.

KDLG's Corinne Smith talked to Katie Ringsmuth, the Alaska state historian and the NN Cannery History Project director. Ringsmuth said this is the first Bristol Bay cannery to receive national recognition.

KDLG's Corinne Smith talks with Katie Ringsmuth, Alaska's state historian and director of the NN Cannery History Project.

Messages to the fleet

We have a birthday message for Kelly Stier on the Honey Badge:

A birthday message for Kelly Stier on the Honey Badger
A birthday message for Kelly Stier on the Honey Badger. 

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that OBI Seafoods had a base price of $1.15, but the company has not yet posted its base price. Instead, the company has posted an advance price of $1.15 per pound of sockeye. The advance price is a payment to fishermen before the season ends.

Corinne Smith is a reporter and producer who grew up in Oakland, California and on her family’s horse ranch in rural San Rafael, CA, a contrast that nurtured a deep appreciation for the complexities of identity and belonging, and connection to place, land and the natural world. She began her reporting career at KPFA in Berkeley, first as a general assignment reporter and then as lead producer of UpFront, a daily morning news and public affairs show. In 2020, she served as the summer reporter for KFSK in Petersburg where she first got hooked on Alaska stories. For the last year, she's been a general assignment reporter for KHNS based in Haines, and thrilled to experience a new part of Alaska and cover the Bristol Bay fishing season this summer with KDLG!
Brian Venua grew up in Dillingham and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He got his start in journalism at KDLG in 2020, interviewing and writing for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and signed on as a full-time host and reporter later that year.
Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.