Merkley Monthly: Fighting for Safety, Training, and Support for Oregon Fishermen

Curry Coastal Pilot

Oregon’s fishing industry is vital to our coastal communities and economy. In 2022, commercial fishing produced over $230 million worth of salmon and other fish, shrimp, crab, and seafood products, and put more than 1,200 fishermen to work.

In my town hall conversations with coastal counties every year, I hear your stories about how fishing is difficult, demanding, and often dangerous work that’s only getting harder because of diminishing fish stocks and growing climate chaos. And we all know that Oregon’s waters are colder, wilder, and more unpredictable than other parts of the country, so our fishermen have to brave more risks and work that much harder to get the job done.  

Fishing is one of the most physically dangerous jobs in America, and the work is mentally and emotionally draining. Fishermen spend long stretches of time away from home and family, working grueling hours of strenuous labor exposed to extreme weather. The result is exhausted, isolated workers operating in hazardous conditions.  

With these challenges and an aging workforce, we need to keep our fishing and maritime industries safe and healthy, so that you can grow your businesses and pass them on to Oregon’s next generation.

Oregon State University is helping to lead these efforts, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. One project focuses on safety training for vessel owners, captains, and deckhands so that crews are prepared to respond to injuries. Another project studies how different equipment configurations on crab vessels can help prevent falls overboard. These are just two examples of federal investments at work to make Oregon fishing communities safer.

You’ve also told me that fishermen want more safety training opportunities. That is why I’m championing the Fishing Industry Safety, Health, and Wellness Improvement Act, known as the FISH Wellness Act.  

This legislation would expand proven safety and training programs for physical and behavioral health run jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Coast Guard. These programs address some of the substance abuse and mental health challenges that accompany the high-stress jobs aboard fishing vessels, including drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease, and suicide.  

This legislation also would eliminate the expense to commercial fishermen or their organizations to participate in safety training programs. Effective safety training should be equally accessible to everyone, regardless of their income or economic status. That’s the common sense, right move.

Oregon’s commercial fishing industry faces many other challenges, which is why I helped secure $52 million for the USDA to purchase Pacific Northwest seafood products during the pandemic, saved the Coast Guard rescue helicopter stationed at Newport from being removed, and ensured that the National Marine Fisheries Service forgave more than $10 million in interest forced onto our trawlers.  

We need to safeguard the financial health of the fishing industry as well as the physical and mental health of the people who power the industry. So, I’ll continue to fight for more safety, training, and support for the fishing industry in Oregon and across the country.