Study Identifies Chronic Health Risks in Commercial Harvesters

A newly released study on chronic health risks in commercial seafood harvesting in Cordova, Alaska, found a prevalence of hearing loss, upper extremity disorders and sleep apnea risk factors higher in the fishing industry workers than in the community’s general population.

Occupational factors including exposure to noise, upper extremity demands of gillnetting and long working hours while fishing exacerbate these chronic health issues.

Authors of the study said health promotion programs targeted toward these conditions may present opportunities for improving total worker health.

The research was conducted by Carly Eckert of the University of Washington School of Public Health, Torie Baker of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, and Debra Cherry, an occupational health physician at the UW School of Medicine.

The study was carried out in the gillnetting fishery in the Copper River salmon fishery. Sixty-six fishermen participated in the pre-season survey and 38 in the mid-season one. Researchers said the overwhelming majority of participants were white males with an average age of 49, and that 70 percent of respondents were overweight or obese but considered their health to be good or better. They reported longer working hours, less sleep and less aerobic exercise during the fishing season.

Researchers said they characterized a small sample of gillnet fishermen in Alaska to better understand their chronic health risks. They noted that these harvesters are accustomed to episodic work in a cramped, pressured setting, which takes place on gillnetters that are 28 to 34 feet in length with little space for exercise.

Researchers also noted that compared to the general Alaskan population study participants reported less tobacco use, more frequent health maintenance visits to health professionals and higher rates of health insurance. They also said that the prevalence of overweight or obesity in their sample was consistent with that of the general adult population of Alaska.

Study results were published in the Journal of Agromedicine.