‘Deadliest Catch’: Researchers Want to Make Profession Less Deadly

by Courtney Blackann

If we’ve learned anything from the “Deadliest Catch” crews, it’s that the job is no walk in the park. It’s a make-or-break profession – pushing your body to the brink and battling extreme weather and fatigue. However, fishermen are cut from a different cloth. They live for the thrill of the catch. Despite this, Oregon researchers want to make the crabbing industry safer for its crews.

With a recent grant of $900,000 provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Department, Oregon State University faculty will spend the next three years researching crab fishing and developing ways to make the industry safer.

After speaking with people involved in the Oregon crabbing industry, associate professor Laura Kincl said there have to be safer ways for fishermen to execute the job, according to NPR affiliate KCCL.

“A lot of strains and sprains, and a lot of fractures from the handling of the gear,” Kincl said. “So that’s why we ask fishermen what can be done to help improve productivity but also improve their safety.” 

One of the biggest detriments to fishing crews comes during the sorting process. Spreading the catch along large tables, crews spend long evenings separating the keepers from the too-small crabs. The process can take a serious toll on the workers’ backs and necks.

The work can have long-term effects on the body “Including their body postures, repetition, as well as an estimated joint-torque-synch compressive forces on their spine and individual joints,” said Jay Kim, assistant professor with OSU’s Occupational Ergonomics and Biomechanics Lab. 

During their research, the professors hope to collect enough data to rejuvenate the industry while providing safe alternatives.

“Deadliest Catch” Crews Face Other Dangers

While researchers look for solutions to long-term physical effects of fishing, the “Deadliest Catch” crews know danger is never far. This was especially apparent during an episode of the Discovery show earlier this year.

Captain Keith Colburn practically has smoke coming from his ears as he realizes another fishing vessel has come in his path – and the two ships will inevitably collide. The two ships were miles out to sea and days into their fishing expedition.

After absolutely losing it – like any captain would – Colburn fills the wheelhouse with many expletives before radioing the other ship.

“I have no idea what you were thinking,” Captain Colburn said to the other boat’s captain. “Did you have an engine failure, what happened? What occurred to have you try and cut right in front of this boat that’s doing four and a half knots?”

The other captain responds:

“I was trying to kick it back in reverse,” the Wizard’s captain said. “I couldn’t get the throttles to back off. It wasn’t reacting. I don’t know.”

Though the moment was heated, ultimately the biggest concern was the safety of everyone aboard the two ships.