Mask warrants for Alaska fishing fleet undermine confidence in safety rules
As the Alaskan fishing fleet prepares for this year’s season, it is forced to pack more than usual nets, rain gear, and enough food to feed a small army. This year, like last year, Alaskan fishermen are all required to pack – and wear – masks.
Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Coast Guard are building on federal mandates for wearing masks on public transport, saying crew on fishing boats must wear masks, despite concerns from many levels .
Last winter, stories of COVID-19 outbreaks on large factory trawlers crossing remote areas of Alaska raised concerns. In at least one case, people aboard these boats arrived ashore and visited local bars in direct violation of their quarantine requirements, quarantining dozens.
Such cases claim that the tight quarters of a fishing vessel, regardless of its size, are the perfect environment for the transmission of COVID-19. People work, eat and sleep together in close and prolonged contact with each other. Even the extreme quarantine requirements imposed by some processing ships last year did not prevent the virus from seeping into the crew and spreading once it did.
But while vessels with larger populations on board, such as ferries, could be a high-risk environment and could be seen as possible sources of super-spreaders, Alaska’s small fishing vessels like those that constitute the majority of the Alaskan fishing fleet with four or five people on board is a different story.
The idea of wearing a mask 24/7 on a fishing boat is exactly the kind of reality-blind mandate that undermines public confidence in federal regulators. As US Senator Lisa Murkowski pointed out during a recent Senate hearing, the rule is not only ridiculous, it could well cause damage.
While commercial fishing, particularly in Alaskan waters, has always involved a number of risks, fishermen generally take these risks very seriously, dressing carefully to ensure there are no loose clothing that could snag or get caught on equipment.
Masks are also not well suited to the often wet weather on the decks of Alaskan fishing boats. The CDC’s own guidelines say not to wear a mask when performing activities that may get your mask wet. Wet masks make it difficult to breathe, according to the federal agency, and may not work as well when wet. Most of the time, there is no dry place on a fishing boat. Even on dry days, ocean spray is a constant factor, as is wet gear arriving on deck. The CDC also says masks aren’t good for high-intensity activities, and if your mask gets wet from sweating, it should be replaced. Requiring fishermen to wear masks at all times, despite the extreme conditions that make masks more dangerous than something that makes the crew safer is contradictory.
More importantly, while wearing a mask in general is essential for the safety of the unvaccinated population, the CDC has reduced recommendations for those who are vaccinated. Many fishing vessels, understanding the potential disaster that could arise if someone on board tested positive in the middle of the season, require proof of vaccination from members of their crew, but the requirements for fishermen who have received the vaccine were not changed.
In general, most anglers obey the US Coast Guard and the laws they enforce. After all, they are the people most likely to come to their aid in an emergency. Anyone involved in this situation knows the reality of the situation, both parties are bound by federal regulations.
While industry-specific interpretations of the CDC guidelines are in the works, they may not come soon enough to help Alaskan fishermen, who are caught in a knot of bureaucracy between doing what they know is realistic. and safe under working conditions, and comply with federal rules. It’s a recipe for disaster no matter how they react. As the nuts and bolts of federal regulation change slowly, in general, this is one of those times when the rules must change, not only to protect Alaskan fishermen, but also to protect the trust between the fishermen. fishermen and those responsible for enforcing safety laws.