Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Dan Sullivan (R-AL), and Edward Markey (D-MA) have spearheaded a bipartisan initiative by introducing the FISH Wellness Act, aimed at enhancing safety, health, and well-being in the fishing industry. This proposed legislation aims to expand upon the successes of the Commercial Fishing Occupational Safety Research & Training Program. It seeks to tackle a spectrum of occupational hazards encountered by fishermen, including worker fatigue and substance use disorders. The act will boost funding for the program, making research and training grants more attainable by removing match requirements.
During the Pacific Marine Expo this year, a coalition of commercial fishing industry professionals convened to deliberate on approaches to tackle the mental health concerns among commercial fishermen. Across generations, individuals have dealt indirectly with mental health challenges, prompting the newer generation to advocate for a more straightforward approach; talking openly about and resolving mental health issues.
“Providing our next generation of fishermen and women with the mental health and substance abuse care that they need is vital to the success of our industry,” said Andrea Tomlinson, founder and executive director of New England Young Fishermen’s Alliance. “Commercial fishing is the second most dangerous job in the US after logging, and these workers require extra mental and behavioral health support due to the strenuous and challenging conditions of this valuable trade.”
Initiating difficult conversations within the commercial fishing community can be challenging, however it also promotes a healthy support network, further reinforced by the backing of U.S. Senators through the FISH Wellness Act. Senator Collins’ relentless efforts extend beyond this act. She is dedicated to the Working Waterfront Preservation Act. This legislation aims to safeguard access for the country’s fishermen and maritime workers to coastal waterfronts in local communities. Since assuming her seat in 1997, Collins has been instrumental in sustaining the vitality of the fishing industry.
“Maine is known around the world for our proud fishing heritage. The hardworking men and women that make up our state’s fishing industry face hazardous and unforgiving conditions, and I am pleased to be working on this effort to help get them the safety training and mental health resources they need,” Senator Collins shared.
According to Fishing Partnership Support Services, more than 2,000 fishermen from Jonesport, Maine, to Wanchese, North Carolina, have undergone training since the grants were initiated in 2019. “This funding empowers fishermen to access life-saving training directly in their home ports,” stated J.J. Bartlett, the organization’s founder.
During Senator Sullivan’s tenure as Alaska’s Attorney General and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, his foremost focus was safeguarding Alaskans. He prioritized ensuring their physical safety, financial stability, and upholding their individual rights, with a particular emphasis on advocating for the needs of Alaska’s most vulnerable populations.
“Fishermen contend with extreme weather, long distances and periods away from shore and family, and often strenuous working conditions- factors that contribute to the industry being consistently ranked among the most dangerous in the country,” said Senator Sullivan. “I’m glad to introduce the FISH Wellness Act with Senator Markey, which would expand job safety training opportunities to support our fishermen as they sustainably harvest a world-class renewable resource and strengthen our coastal economies.”
Senator Markey supports the principles and ideals valued by Massachusetts and is eager to advance increased job safety measures within an industry vital to the state’s workforce and economy. Per NOAA Fisheries, the commercial fishing sector contributes $4.4 billion in sales, $2.3 billion in income, as well as over 83,000 job opportunities.
“Every day, our fishermen are faced with demanding and dangerous working conditions that take both a physical and mental toll, all while they work to bring food to the tables of families across the country,” said Senator Markey. “The FISH Wellness Act will provide much-needed funding to ensure that fishermen are getting the information and resources they need to stay safe and healthy on the job.”