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Washington Team Receives Pilot Grant to Study Health of Copper River Fishermen

A team of University of Washington researchers received a one-year grant to study the overall fitness and health risks faced by gillnet fishermen along Alaska’s Copper River, famous for its salmon. The $25,000 study will collect data including sleep management and fatigue, hearing loss, and high blood pressure.

Debra Cherry
[Photo: Dr. Debra Cherry]

Researchers are looking at the health habits of commercial fishermen before and during the fishing season with the aim of finding ways to improve their health, according to Dr. Debra Cherry, adjunct associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UW School of Public Health.

Dr. Cherry is director of the UW’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency program and an associate professor of general internal medicine. She said researchers will study possible contributing factors to the fatal and non-fatal injuries associated with commercial fishing.

Volunteer participants will begin by taking a 20-minute survey and participating in a brief test to measure heart rate. Follow-up physical exams will be given in July to a subset of the volunteers while another subset will be monitored by Fitbits during the fishing season.

The pilot project was awarded by the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health (PNASH) Center at the School of Public Health with funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

In a previous study in 2013, UW researchers reviewed nonfatal injuries in commercial fishing from the U.S. Coast Guard and insurance claims. Wrists and hands were the most commonly injured body parts from work processes such as bringing in the nets and sorting the fish, according to Dr. Cherry.

The research team includes Dr. Carly Miller (MPH ’14), who led a study of injuries in Alaska crab fishermen in 2013.

Funding citation: NIOSH/CDC Cooperative Agreement #5 U54 OH0007544