Pilot: Total Worker Health in Salmon Fishermen from Cordova, Alaska

Commercial fishing is the most hazardous occupation in the U.S. with workers experiencing both acute and chronic health risks. While fishing fatality data is an area of active research, information on chronic health conditions that affect fishermen is limited. This one-year study assessed chronic health conditions and habits among the gillnet fleet based out of Cordova, AK.
Past studies have focused on reducing acute injuries and deaths in the fishing industry, but there has been very little work done to evaluate the chronic disease risks that face commercial fisherman. This study seeks to identify and describe the chronic health risks associated with fishing to develop a “total worker health” best practices to make work in this vital industry as safe and healthy as possible. This pilot project worked to develop a new health risk appraisal tool and exam protocol to assess the health status and chronic disease risk factors in the participating of salmon fishermen in Cordova, Alaska. In this study, 100 participants were examined using the appraisal tool and 20 participants underwent sleep monitoring and physical exams to help validate appraisal findings. The goal was to develop a health risk assessment tool that could be transferred to other health studies of fishermen.
Study participants who had physical exams in Cordova received their individual results, recommendations for follow up, and a summary of the study findings by letter. The leaders of the Cordova District Fishermen United and the Cordova community were presented information to share on prevention to help reduce occupational hearing loss and upper extremity disorders. The study brought together a group of partners who had not worked together before, including the Cordova Public Health Center, Cordova District Fishermen United, Alaska Sea Grant program, NIOSH-Alaska office, a research nurse living in Cordova, and the University of Washington.
Dr. Cherry and Ms. Baker, Director, Cordova Extension of Alaska Sea Grant Office, are currently collaborating with our national investigators in drafting a research proposal related to fishing vessel exposure and health outcomes. The study provided novel data on the chronic health conditions and habits of Alaskan fishermen that serves to inform future studies in the field. By focusing the study on chronic – rather than acute health risks – the results provide valuable contributions to the currently limited body of knowledge on the subject.
Principal Investigator: Debra Cherry, MD, MS  
Adjunct Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
University of Washington

PNASH Pilot Project 2014-2015

Partnerships and Advisories
NIOSH Pacific Office
University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant program
Cordova District Fishermen United
Eckert C, Baker T, Cherry D. Chronic Health Risks in Commercial Fishermen: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from a Small Rural Fishing Village in Alaska. J Agromedicine. 2018;23(2):176-185. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2018.1425172. PMID: 29648956.

Total Worker Health of Salmon Fishermen, Fact sheet