Fishing Safety: Caution Advised Re: Energy Drinks, Electronics for Good Health, Sleep

Alaska Marine Safety Education Association Executive Director Jerry Dzugan. Photo courtesy of AMSEA.

Eating bad food makes you feel good, because nothing makes you happier than a satisfying meal, but seafood harvesters devoted to that career should make better choices, according to Jerry Dzugan, an outspoken advocate for the longevity of Alaska’s graying fleet of fishermen.

As the director and an instructor for the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association for well over three decades, Dzugan has plenty of experience in teaching ergonomics, the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. He informs fishermen about how to use specific exercises to avoid and also recuperate from injuries sustained at sea.

An advocate of fishing safety, Dzugan also has plenty of tips for all age groups in the fishing industry on diet, exercise and getting enough rest to be in top form when fishing or processing seafood.

Proper Diet

Because fishermen spend so much time at sea, they need to have food on hand that is tasty, healthy and easy to prepare. 

Variety is important for attitude, and should include plenty of high protein and carbohydrates, Dzugan said. Along with seafood itself, he recommends cheese and eggs as good high protein foods, as well as whole grain bread products, plus potatoes, squash and beans as vegetables that can last a while with minimal or no refrigeration.

Fresh fish from the sea may also be readily available to transfer from the deck to the galley to cook up for the next meal. Good snacks to pack onboard include varieties of nuts, chocolate and fruit, the latter having pulp that slows the digestion of sugars. 

When selecting beverages, look for safe levels of sugar content, with no more than 36 grams of sugar for men and 32 grams of sugar for women, he said. Just one 20-ounce container of soda has 66 grams of sugar.

Foods and beverages to avoid include deep fried foods, energy drinks and highly processed fast foods.

It’s not just the food itself, but who the cook is, Dzugan explained.

“The cook is the second—or maybe most – important person on the vessel. On the vessel you are working hard and you’re looking forward to that next meal,” he remarked. “If someone is not a good cook, that’s just a bummer. If you are a deckhand and also a good cook, that’s a good way to get a job.”

Fishermen burn a lot of calories in a cold, wet environment, but they should avoid energy drinks, because they have so much caffeine and sugar that they create glycemic overload.

Glycemic load indicates how rapidly a specific carbohydrate food raises blood sugar and factors in the actual amount of the particular carbohydrate being consumed. And it’s not just digestion problems that accompany a high glycemic load.

“It affects the chemical balance in your brain to have that much sugar and caffeine,” Dzugan explained.

He explained the insulin-sugar connection. For an amount of sugar to be absorbed, a body has to have a given amount of insulin to deal with it, so either the pancreas goes into overdrive to produce enough or is not able to keep up, he said.

“It’s better to have foods that are absorbed more slowly by the body like fruits, because fruits have fiber and the body takes longer to process sugar when it is in food with fiber in it,” Dzugan explained.

An ergonomics class, demonstrated by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, shows how yoga for exercise can help seafood harvesters maintain strength at sea while bringing in the fish. Photo courtesy of AMSEA.


Exercise is also critical to the well-being of fishermen. Owners and captains of fishing vessels have a lot of control over what people eat and also over giving people breaks, so they can require some stretching, Dzugan said. 

Data compiled by the Alaska Division of Workers’ Compensation Fishermen’s Fund found that drift gillnetters had the most injuries—552 in five years— compared with 370 injuries for purse seiners, 235 for longliners and 172 for setnetters. Among the fisheries with the highest rates of injuries, 40%  were muscular-skeletal, the data showed.

The Pocket Guide to Ergonomics, an injury prevention guide for commercial fishermen, is recommended to vessel captains to keep on board as a reference for the captain and crew. The 24-page guide, downloadable at, includes PowerPoint presentations and pocket guides in English and Vietnamese. Topics include assessing ergonomic hazards on deck and retrofitting vessel deck space for improved ergonomics.

Dzugan also recommends seeking an exam from a physical therapist before beginning any exercises, such as yoga workshops at the individual’s level of fitness.

Apprenticeship programs and safety orientations on equipment before heading out to sea are helpful to avoid the hazards of some machinery, but some of that training has to be on the job.

“Most fishermen are good about this because losing a deckhand due to injury is expensive and it’s hard to replace that deckhand in the middle of a fishing season,” Dzugan said.

Rest Periods

Along with a healthy diet and proper exercise, fishermen need rest periods and enough sleep to stay in shape for the long term.

Many people, particularly as they age, may have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, whether at work on fishing vessels or on shore working on related fisheries issues.

Recommendations from Dzugan on getting a good night’s sleep include monitoring caffeine use, meal hours and alcohol intake.  That means being aware of the half-life of caffeine and alcoholic beverages and avoiding big meals before heading for bed. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours and alcohol a half-life of four to five hours, so it takes about 24 hours to be free of the effects of both caffeine and alcoholic beverages for good sleep, he noted.

Stretching in general and meditation to stop one’s internal dialogue are helpful.

Another key to good sleep is cutting off use of electronics, from cell phones to computers and televisions, at least half an hour before bedtime.

“No blue light for 20 to 30 minutes before sleeping,” Dzugan advises. 

Blue light, also known as high-energy visible light, is a color in the visible light spectrum that can be seen by human eyes. These wavelengths of visible and non-visible light are measured in nanometers. In general the shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. Blue light affects the body’s release of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Extra caution is also needed by those in the wheelhouse, where there is a lot of blue light these days, he said.

More information about AMSEA, located in Sitka, Alaska, including the organization’s training programs, is online at