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The Alaskan fishing industry is made up of more than 78,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $5.8 billion in revenue each year. However, even after decades of progress for women in other fields, the Alaskan fishing industry remains mostly male dominated.  According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, women make up only 14 percent of commercial fisherman and roughly 33 percent of processing workers.  Women continue to face substantial challenges working in the male dominated fishing industry. For example, many captains still retain old prejudices that women cannot perform the work as well as men.

While women make up only a small percentage of the Alaskan fishing industry, there are many examples of their significant impact, including those who have built their own businesses, impacted business development in the industry, and passed down fishing legacies to their children.  Many women have been born into fishing families, where they have continued, and expanded upon, their generational fishing legacies.  At Kraft Davies we are proud to represent women who fish in Alaska and recognize the significant impact they have on the Alaskan fishing industry.

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According to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the average age of an Alaska fishery permit holder in 2013 was 49.7 years old, 10 years older than the average age in 1980. In addition, only 17.3 percent of permit holders are under 40; in 1980, it was 38.5 percent.  Members of the Alaska fishing industry are growing older, which has spawned the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit. The summit’s purpose is to bring together younger fishermen from all over Alaska to discuss various issues and learn from each other.  Some of the issues they discussed and learned about at the Young Fishermen’s Summit include insurance tools to reduce risk, ocean acidification, fish prices and transboundary mines. In addition, fishermen went to the Legislature, met with the House Fisheries Committee, and learned about the state Board of Fish. Furthermore, they observed the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which approves catch limits and regulations.

The Governor of Alaska, Bill Walker, is big supporter of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit and addressed the group, telling them he’s “just thrilled to see this program.” In addition, he stated “There are not enough young fishermen… Our oceans are so abundant with opportunity. Our job is to make sure that those opportunities are connected with you, with Alaskans.”

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The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute recently released a report titled “The Economic Value of Alaska’s Seafood Industry.” The report, consisting of 2014 data, states that there are 60,000 workers in Alaska’s seafood industry, which earn $1.6 billion per year. In 2014, the Alaska fishing harvest produced 5.7 billion pounds of seafood.  Among the commercial fishing sector there are 31,819 skippers and crew and 8,618 fishing vessels. People from all 50 states in the U.S. participate in Alaska’s commercial fisheries. In 2014, only 55 percent of skippers and crew were residents of Alaska; after Alaska, Washington is the largest contributor of fishermen to the Alaska fishing industry.  The Alaska seafood industry has significant economic impacts, accounting for about 20 percent of Alaska’s basic private sector economy. In addition, the Alaska seafood industry exports to over 100 countries annually. Furthermore, in 2014, those exports were valued at $3.2 billion (55 percent of U.S. seafood exports).  In one of the most significant fishing regions, the Bristol Bay region, commercial fisheries generate an average of $95 million. In addition, Bristol Bay accounted for 11 percent of the value of Alaska’s fisheries in 2014, with a value of $221 million dollars for about 222 million pounds of seafood. The fishery includes 502 resident-owned fishing vessels and 1,619 resident fishermen.

In Alaska, economic impact by species varies. For example, salmon creates the most jobs, the most labor income, and the most total value. In addition, Pollock’s economic impact is a close second, but is the largest single species U.S. fishery by volume. Furthermore, halibut, black cod, and crab are considered high value species, as they account for only 2 percent of total Alaska seafood volume, but 18-20 percent of the labor income and economic output of the fishing industry.

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According to a report in the Kitsap Sun, a man attempted to jump from the ferry M/V WALLA WALLA on Saturday night about 10 minutes after the ferry departed from Edmonds at 6:15 p.m. The man was arguing loudly with his female companion and attempted to jump over the rail into the cold waters of Puget Sound. Ordinary seaman Logan Batchelor intervened quickly and was able to prevent the man from getting over the rail before others came to his assistance.  His swift actions with the help of others in the area likely saved the life of the man attempting to jump over the rail.

As lawyers representing WSF employees, we are proud of the work that our clients and friends at WSF perform to keep the ferries running and the public safe. We congratulate Logan Batchelor on his quick intervention that likely saved the life of a man at a time of need.

Failure of a vessel’s equipment under normal use constitutes unseaworthiness under the general maritime law. Havens v. F/T Polar Mist, 996 F.2d 215 (9th Cir. 1993); Lee v. Pacific Far East Line, Inc., 566 F.2d 65 (9th Cir. 1977); Marshall v. Ove Skou Redari A/S, 378 F.2d 193 (5th Cir. 1967), cert. den. 389 U.S. 828, 88 S. Ct. 86, 19 L. Ed. 2d. 84 (1967). “[T]hings about a ship, whether the hull, the decks, the machinery, the tools furnished, the stowage, or the cargo containers, must be reasonably fit for the purpose for which they are to be used.” Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 213, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L. Ed. 2d 297 (1963). “The shipowner’s liability arising from an unseaworthy condition continues until it can be corrected and embraces the means employed to alleviate the dangerous condition.” Benedict on Admiralty, 1B at § 3-43-44 (7th ed. 1997) (emphasis added); see also Alaska Steamship Company v. Garcia, 378 F.2d 153 (9th Cir. 1967). In Garcia, a longshore worker was called upon to remedy an improperly rigged boom and was injured in the process lowering the boom. Holding in favor of the injured worker, the Ninth Circuit opined:

“The liability of the shipowner arising from this unseaworthy condition therefore continued until such correction could be made and, in our opinion, embraced any method or act employed in correcting the dangerous condition. Garcia was injured because the risk that the boom might fall materialized. This being the case, it is without legal significance that the unseaworthy condition might have been corrected in a manner which would have prevented the boom from falling.”

Id. at 155. Similarly, in Hudson Waterways Corporation v. Schneider, 365 F.2d 1012 (9th Cir. 1966), the Ninth Circuit posed the issue as “whether the doctrine of unseaworthiness protects a seaman injured while repairing a defective appliance.” Id. at 1013-14. The court held that the plaintiff was protected by the doctrine of unseaworthiness when he was shocked by a defective manual control switch box attached to an air compressor he was sent to repair. Ruling that the vessel owner was not exonerated because the seaman was sent to repair the defective air compressor, the Ninth Circuit held:

According to the Ceberingseaopis2082-2nter for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on-deck injuries account for 12% of all fatalities in the commercial fishing industry and the largest number of hospitalizations in non-fatal injuries. Most of these injuries (67%) occur on deck during the deployment and retrieval of fishing gear. In order to avoid injuries, employers should conduct a job safety analysis of their fishing gear deployment and retrieval process to look for ways to prevent injuries.

Vessel owners should also carefully evaluate the deck environment for slip and trip hazards as well as other common types of hazards out on deck. Crew fatigue is another common cause of injuries out on deck. The deck of commercial fishing boats are oftentimes congested with machinery and fishing equipment that can lead to severe slips and falls or entanglement. Many employers take inadequate measures to make certain that adequate guarding and safety features common in other industries are used on fishing vessels to prevent injuries out on deck.

Vessel owners should evaluate their vessels for the following safety equipment and measures:

During the last federal fiscal year eStacking Crab Pots in Alaska by Corey Arnoldnding on September 30, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that, for the first time in known history, no one died on the job while commercial fishing in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Phillip Thorne, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard in Alaska, commented: “This is the first year, going back as far as we have records, that we didn’t have what I’ll characterize as an operational-related death.” Salmon fishing has replaced Bering Sea crab fishing as the deadliest fishery in recent years. While deaths did occur, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that they were unrelated to fishing operations.

According to NIOSH, in the prior year nine people died in Alaska fishing accidents, and there were 29 deaths nationwide. These numbers were the lowest since NIOSH started keeping record in 2000. Nationwide, commercial fishing deaths are on the decline. Many fisheries have been rationalized and consolidated, with quotas in place for individual boats instead of an entire fleet. Instead of boats racing out to catch the most fish in a defined period, fishing is slower under the quota system. As a result, there are less people making a living in commercial fishing and the fishing is slower, improving the safety of fishing operations. New equipment, including winch shutoffs, more comfortable life jackets, and better training has also improved safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard has increasingly emphasized safety exams for fishing vessels and recently began mandating exams nationwide for every fishing vessel that works more than 3 miles offshore. These safety examinations increase compliance with U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations and are designed to improve the most deadly form of accidents – vessel sinkings. With more federal observes required aboard Alaska fishing boats, safety issues are more regularly reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. Although six commercial fishing vessels sank between June and September in Alaska, there were no fatalities in those sinkings. In the past, vessel sinkings were the largest driver of fatalities and the recent survival of these crews may suggest that improved training is yielding positive results.

News broke Thursday, June 25 of a tragic float plane crash near Misty Fjords National Monument, about 25 miles outside of Ketchikan, Alaska. The crash resulted in the deaths of all onboard, including eight Holland America Line passengers and the plane’s pilot.

The sightseeing airplane ride had been arranged through Holland America Line as an excursion available to cruise passengers aboard the vessel M/S WESTERDAM. At the time of the crash, the plane was on its way back from Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness area of lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys accessible only by floatplanes or boats. It has been reported that the plane crashed into a rock cliff face 800 feet above Ella Lake.

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the crash, and the wreckage will be flown back to Ketchikan via helicopter to be reassembled and checked for mechanical problems. The company operating the excursion was Promech Air of Ketchikan, Alaska. The plane was a DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop seaplane.

IN ADMIRALTY

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW RE EVIDENTIARY HEARING ON MAINTENANCE AND CURE

This matter came on for an evidentiary hearing, before the Court, sitting without a jury, on May 14, 2015. Plaintiff Jeffrey A. Hedges (Hedges) was represented by Robert M. Kraft, Richard J. Davies and Marissa A. Olsson of Kraft Davies P.L.L.C., and defendant Foss Maritime Company (Foss) was represented by Barbara L. Holland and Tyler A. Arnold of Garvey, Schubert & Barer. The Court has considered the evidence presented at the hearing, the exhibits admitted into evidence, the arguments of counsel, and being fully advised, makes its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as follows:

In an order dated May 22, 2015, a Seattle federal court judge issued a ruling requiring Arctic Storm, Inc. to pay back maintenance payments to two fish processors injured on May 20, 2013 when a fire broke out on board the C/P ARCTIC STORM and also held that the processors’ punitive damages claim against the company for delay in payment could go forward to trial.  In ruling in favor of the fish processors represented by our firm, the Court wrote:  “The Court finds at least some delays in maritime benefits payments that a trier of fact could conclude represented willful and wanton disregard for defendants’ rights, and thus defendants’ punitive damages claim should go forward.”

Another significant issue in the claim was Arctic Storm’s position that it didn’t have to pay maintenance to the injured fish processors until it was supplied with medical records documenting ongoing medical treatment for the injuries.  Rejecting this position taken by Arctic Storm, the Court further concluded:  “[Arctic Storm] has provided no authority holding that a shipowner may withhold benefits while it verifies that such a prognosis remains up-to-date.  Consequently, the Court rejects this notion. . .  The Court further finds that, in light of [Arctic Storm’s] conduct up to this point, and the fact that plaintiff has shown itself capable of paying defendants’ bills within two weeks . . . defendants are entitled to an order setting a regular payment schedule.”

The Court’s ruling is important because it forecloses the practice of requiring updated medical records documenting ongoing treatment in order to qualify for continuing maintenance payments.  As a practical matter, obtaining records can take significant time and substantially delay the payment of necessary maintenance to injured seamen.  Since maintenance payments are intended to provide subsistence payments to an injured seaman during recovery, delay in making these payments risks substantial hardship to the injured fish processor.  Holding that repeated delays in making maintenance payments could form the basis for a punitive damages claim, the Court wrote:  “This Court finds no persuasive authority holding that repeated delays of maritime benefits cannot support a punitive damages finding under this standard even where the amounts owed are eventually paid.”

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