OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effectiveness of the United States Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988 in reducing the high occupational death rate (200/100,000/year in 1991-2) among Alaska's commercial fishermen. METHODS: Comprehensive surveillance of deaths in commercial fishing was established by our office during 1991 and 1992 for Alaska. Demographic data and data on risk factors and incidents were compiled and analysed for trend. RESULTS: During 1991-8, there was a significant (p < 0.001) decrease in deaths in Alaska related to commercial fishing. Although drownings from fishermen falling overboard and events related to crab fishing vessels (often conducted far offshore and in winter) have continued to occur, marked progress (significant downward trend, p < 0.001) has been made in saving the lives of people involved in vessels capsizing and sinking. CONCLUSIONS: Specific measures tailored to prevent drowning associated with vessels capsizing and sinking in Alaska's commercial fishing industry have been successful. However, these events continue to occur, and place fishermen and rescue personnel at substantial risk. Additional strategies must be identified to reduce the frequency of vessels capsizing and sinking, to enable parallel improvements in the mortality among crab fishermen, and to prevent fishermen falling overboard and drownings associated with them.
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