Thursday, February 16, 2012

Breaking the Chain: Using risk assessment scores to prevent fishing vessel casualties.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Mr. Jerry Dzugan, executive director, Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

Risk Management
Vessel casualties usually occur as a result of widely varying factors that may include crew fatigue, vessel maintenance and upgrade history, and fisheries management regime, along with many other issues.

Additionally, this industry includes hundreds of different types of fisheries and vessels. Some fishing vessels may fish only in the summer in southern coastal waters or in the winter in the Bering Sea. They may be single-handed operations or have a crew of well over 100 people. Therefore a “one-size-fits-all” risk management program will not be very effective.

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association has identified eight areas that should be examined for every fishery:

  • Casualty Data. Determine in what type of fisheries the fatalities, injuries, and vessel losses are occurring. The amount of effort and resources placed in managing risk should be proportional to the risk.
  • Type of Fishery. A description of a fishery should include the typical number of crewmembers, length of trips, description of gear types, and how the product is stored and processed.
  • Vessel Types and Hazards. Vessel size, age, layout, and how the gear is operated can indicate risks. If the vessel participates in other fisheries and changes fishing gear, there are implications for stability and other hazards. Fisheries that use power blocks and winches will have more crushing injuries, while hook-and-line fisheries will have more cut and puncture-type injuries.
  • Environmental Hazards. The geographic location of a fishery, the season of the year, the distance offshore, remoteness from rescue resources, water temperature, seasonal storm patterns, and predictability all affect risk.
  • Subjective Hazards. Issues such as operator and crew experience, fatigue, over- or under-capitalization, traditions, attitude, economics, culture, crew communication, and drug and/or alcohol use all affect risk and should be examined.

Salmon seining, such as in this picture taken in Sitka Sound, SE Alaska, usually takes place in areas close to where salmon are returning to their home streams. The vessel’s seine skiff pulls the net closed. Photo by Mr. Jerry Dzugan.
Casualty reports and statistics should demonstrate which fisheries are known to have more stability issues and determine the cause of stability problems in a fishery. Gear hang-ups, icing, down flooding, improper loading, heavy weather, and other factors may be problems in some fisheries, but not in others. Vessel size and stability requirements and enforcement will also be factors in assessing risk in a fishery.

A basic risk assessment score sheet (see sidebar) filled out at the beginning of every season or trip can remind the operator of changing risk. One of the most useful aspects of this risk score sheet is that it makes the operator think about every aspect of the operation in a systemic way. In addition, it allows the operator to decrease overall risk by making changes in controllable areas.

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Mark and Kelly Klinger troll for salmon in Salisbury Sound, SE Alaska. Many salmon boats are family-run fisheries, so children learn to fish and act safely on a vessel from a very young age. Photo by Ms. Deborah Mercy.