Alaska Fisheries Report April 21, 2022

On this week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: Angela Denning’s wide awake story about sleep research for fishermen, and Maggie Nelson’s catch of the day, regarding Unalaska fishermen taking local youths out on the water.


Unalaska fisherman takes students cod fishing.



Unalaska is the number one fishing port in the nation by volume. But most of the fishermen and boat owners who make up that fleet don’t live on the island — many aren’t even from Alaska.


So a few Unalaska fishermen are working to change that … by fostering youth interest in the industry.


From the deck of one small boat with big hopes for the local fishery, KUCB’s Maggie Nelson reports.



DICKERSON (in background): “How’s Kaidon doing?”

LORENZEN: “He’s having a bit of a rough time…”


There’s no better crash course for a green fisherman than hopping on a boat and setting sail into the open seas — even just a few miles out.


DICKERSON: “Do we have a deck bucket? … Here, I’ll get something.”


For 14-year-old Kaidon Parker, it’s a tough lesson. But that’s why he’s here: for a look into the life of Unalaska’s small-boat fishermen.


PARKER: “Last summer, I actually asked him if he could take me and some friends out and he told us that we should invest in a little boat and a tote and a jigging machine for fish. And we couldn’t do that, we didn’t have any money.”


Eventually, though, Parker got that trip out to fish cod with his step grandpa, Dustan Dickerson.


Dickerson is the captain of the 54-foot Raven Bay. He and his three-man crew are taking curious Unalaska youth out for an 8-hour cod fishing trip.


It’s no Deadliest Catch— there’s no cranky captains, climactic 50-foot waves or galley drama. It’s all meat and potatoes … fish and potatoes, to be more precise.


DICKERSON: “We’ve got some cod belly here …”


Dickerson has been working in Unalaska’s fishing industry since the late ‘80s, when he came to the island. He bought his first boat, the Katie Jean in ‘93. He’s seen the industry ebb and flow — and watched the small-boat fisheries and once-young fishermen evolve and start to grow old.


Now, he’s trying to rejuvenate that industry by bringing any curious youth along for a quick trip out to the fishing grounds.


DICKERSON: “You know, Kaidon, I don’t know what your interest is or how you got involved — maybe dad just needed to get him out of the house on spring break. That could be it.”


Dickerson got into the industry first through processing, then longlining, then pot fishing. But he says it’s not as easy for young fishermen to get a foot in the door as it once was.


DICKERSON: “It’s important that that you know, to to preserve opportunities for people that are just getting started otherwise we will have a big problem. Otherwise there won’t be any more small boats because once I retire you know, unless I pass this boat along, how is somebody in the community gonna get started?”


He says part of the solution lies in the hands of fisheries boards and councils who allocate quota and total allowable catch. But it’s also about exposure … Cue Dickerson’s local youth outreach.


Ambi of ad from radio fades under…


DICKERSON: “What it’s doing is, is creating a labor pool that we really need in the industry. You know, for kids that have been exposed to commercial fishing, they’re far more likely to get into the industry than having graduated from high school without ever being on the boat.”


So, on a recent nice weekend, a few kids get dropped off at Unalaska’s small boat harbor around 5 in the morning. They crawl into the galley bunks or wheelhouse, eyes still drooping with sleep and head out to watch and learn.


DICKERSON: “Corynn, you keep an eye on this … see that line … we’re headed straight for that boat.”


Ultimately, the program is fulfilling a more complex purpose. But Dickerson says the idea to start bringing local kids onto the boat came about pretty organically.


DICKERSON: “It hadn’t occurred to me a year ago, you know, to hire somebody that was just out of high school, I normally like to have experienced people on the boat. But we were missing a guy and Scotty Lorenzen’s name came up.”


Dickerson says 20-year-old Scott Lorenzen hopped on board. He started out as the bait guy and now, just a year later he’s switching out with his deck boss, working the hydraulics. [WEB ONLY: Along the way, Dickerson says Lorenzen recruited another young local Alex Schliebe].


DICKERSON: “It was just a breath of fresh air to work with young people, you know, because it was a good way to, to re-observe my surroundings through fresh eyes.”


For the hesitant, sleepy and seasick teens — the most effective part of the trip is the example the young fishermen set on deck.


LORENZEN: “I got this TikTok account going that got quite a bit of followers, and I told them I would write their username on the back of my PFD if they liked the post. There’s still a ton I got to write.”


That’s Scott Lorenzen. He’s from Unalaska and graduated high school a couple years ago.


This is just his second season fishing. Still, he carries a composed energy and passion that fills the space around him.


LORENZEN: “There’s a beauty to it. It’s just fun to be able to go out there and experience, you know, the raw Aleutian wilderness and to be able to have that life that, you know, a lot of people would really appreciate to live.”


Lorenzen recently joined the board of the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association. The association helps fund the young fisherman program by paying for things like licenses and extra survival suits.


He said growing up around the island’s famed fishing industry initially piqued his interest. And now that he’s a part of it, he said he wants to advocate for other young fishermen.


“It’s really a dying industry, especially the small boat fleet,” Lorenzen said. “This boat and just a couple other boats are pretty much the last of the small boats really that are out fishing near town and come home just about every night. It would just be nice to help my captain out with what he’s trying to do and repopulate the small boat fleet.”


Dickerson says as long as there’s kids on the island interested in fishing, he plans to keep taking them out.


DICKERSON: “We’re gonna continue this program until I retire, you know, it’s just too convenient to be fishing, you know, 10 miles out of town and not take people out to expose them to this.”




In Unalaska, I’m Maggie Nelson.




Sleepy Fishermen

Angela Denning


Researchers from New York state were in Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, and Cordova last week gathering information on salmon gillnetters as part of their study on sleep deprivation.

The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety is a non-profit that’s funded through the Centers for Disease Control to come up with solutions for work related issues with fishermen, farmers, and forestry workers. Currently, they are working on the relationship between commercial fishermen’s sleep and health.

The research team is on the tail end of their data gathering. They’ve already have information from scallop fishermen in Massachusetts, Dungeness fishermen in Oregon, and salmon gillnetters in Alaska. They’re studying inshore lobster fishermen as the control group because they just go out on day trips.

Julie Sorensen is the Director of the research center. She spoke with KFSK’s Angela Denning while she was in Petersburg and says there is a lot of research on shift workers like truckers but nearly nothing on fishermen.

18sleep:    (4:12)  “Does having an erratic sleep schedule. . . .and that people can understand.”

Julie Sorensen is the Director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety. She says they hope to finish analyzing the data this summer and be able to share some of the findings in the fall.

The research center also produces a fishermen’s podcast called Fishing Forward. You can find a link to it on our website, along with this story.

Julie Sorensen: Does having an erratic sleep schedule affect their ability to get good sleep when they’re not working? Or, years from now, if they’ve had erratic sleep schedules, you know, in their past as they get older, is it harder to sleep? And then how does that affect their cognitive decline? Does it affect their memory? Does it affect other aspects of their health? So we’re looking at cardiac health, we’re looking at kidney function, we’re looking at many, many different things. And I think what we hope to do is we’ll look at associations between, you know, some of the things that they’ve experienced and their health outcomes. And that’ll be a basis for kind of doing a deeper dive in the years ahead. You know how those two things intersect. But, you know, I think through this initial round, what we hope to do is take that data back to the fishing community, and say, well, this is what we’ve learned so far. So now, what do YOU think is the next logical step?

Angela Denning: And so [you’re studying] specifically, gillnetters?

Juile Sorensen: Yes, yeah, salmon gillnetters. And the reason for that is in our work with partners like AMSEA, they felt like, oh, probably salmon gillnetters have one of the most erratic sleep schedules. So that might be a good group to focus on. I think what we’re learning through the research is that the fisheries are really fluid. So if somebody might fish for salmon, be a salmon gillnetter but then switch to another fishery. And so it’s really hard to kind of say, you know, that person just does that. So that’s one of the things we’re learning in the research.

Angela Denning: What are some of the questions that you’re asking the fisherman that you see?

Julie Sorensen: So we’re asking them to talk about sleep schedules, work schedules, we’re asking them to talk about nutrition, how they caffeinate, strategies they develop to stay awake, strategies they’ve developed that helps them sleep when they have time to sleep. Questions, like, you know, what are some associations you see between your sleep and your health? What are things that you worry about in relation to your health and sleep? So those are some of the questions were asking. Some of the additional data we’re collecting are things like BMI, vision, hearing, glucose levels, cardiac health, respiratory health, those are all collected as part of the health assessment. There’s increasing research on how sleep is so essential for your brain health, your cognitive health. And so you know, sleep is important. You develop waste products throughout the day, and your downtime, your sleep time is your brain’s time to kind of clean out that waste, and kind of renew for the next day. It’s also an important part of your ability to remember things. So, you know, when you’re going throughout your day, and you’re experiencing different things, those things get stored in your hypothalamus. And then when you sleep, they get transferred back to the neocortex process, they’re brought back to the hypothalamus. So you know, those stages in your sleep cycle, light, sleep, deep sleep, REM, those are all important for processing memory. And so I think people feel like, oh, you know, I can do without it. I, you know, learn to do without it this long. But I think more and more, we’re understanding how important sleep is. But what we hope to do is, once we analyze the data that we’ve been collecting, we want to share that back with the fishing community and participants. And one way we’d like to do that is to have a webinar or a training session that would be live and interactive. So we can say, well, this is what we learned. And there are some solutions that we think might work for your specific fishery. And then it also gives people a chance to ask questions or ask for clarification, because sometimes research can be very confusing, right? Like as researchers, we talk about an association, so this exposure may be associated with this outcome. It doesn’t mean that that caused that. But, you know, it’s possible. And so we have to do more research. So that just gives us an opportunity to kind of explain the results in a way that’s accurate and that people can understand.



Julie Sorensen is the Director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety. She says they hope to finish analyzing the data this summer and be able to share some of the findings in the fall.

The research center also produces a fishermen’s podcast called Fishing Forward.

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