STONINGTON — According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commercial fishing is consistently ranked as the most deadly occupation in U.S. industry.
Sadly, that comes as no surprise to anyone who lives along the coast of Maine, especially the women who are members of the Island Fishermen’s Wives.
For lobstermen, one of the greatest risks is becoming entangled in the line that connects lobster traps to their marker buoys and being pulled overboard.
With that in mind, the Island Fishermen’s Wives recently purchased 1,000 Rope Razor knives manufactured by Plante Buoy Sticks in Somerville, Maine, and is distributing them to fishermen on Deer Isle without cost.
The purchase was funded by a grant from the Birch Cove Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and an extra discount from Plante, which manufactures and supplies a variety of products for building or refurbishing lobster gear.
The knives and sheaths, which attach with the knife handle pointing down, to the suspenders of the oil pants most fishermen wear, have been distributed to all the lobster dealers on the island, the association’s treasurer and co-founder Jenni Steele said last week. The dealers agreed to put them out for captains and sternmen to grab “where they pick up their checks” for lobster sales.
The knife distribution is in keeping with the association’s tradition of concerns over the nearly three decades since its beginnings in Stonington for the safety of the men and women who fish from island harbors.
“A few years ago, we bought 400 first aid kits and passed them out to the boats,” Steele said. A year of two later, the group passed out 1,000 heat-reflective safety blankets.
“We were shocked at how many have used them,” Steele said.
The grant from the Maine Community Foundation was essential in paying for the knives and was, at least in part, funded by a recurring anonymous donation to MCF to benefit the Fishermen’s Wives. Just as important, though, was the generosity of Plante Buoy Sticks owner Eric deDoes.
“Jenni contacted me asking for a price on a thousand knives and sheaths and told me the Island Fishermen’s Wives Association was thinking about supplying all the local fishermen and crews with a knife and sheath for their safety,” deDoes said last week. “I designed the Rope Razor to bring a product to market that could potentially reduce the risks associated with entanglements. Giving the association a generous discount was our way of showing we do have an interest in the safety of those involved in the industry we have been a part of for over 40 years.”