BLUE HILL — No one who lives on the coast of Maine, or reads the newspaper, underestimates the dangers fishermen face every time they go out on their boats. They can get snagged by a winch cable, struck by a piece of heavy rigging or pitched over the side.
Few lobstermen who go overboard are wearing personal flotation devices — life jackets. An effort involving several lobster industry associations, safety specialists and researchers, the Lifejackets for Lobstermen project, is underway with hopes to change that.
Starting Friday, a Lifejackets for Lobstermen project van stocked with a variety of lifejackets will visit nine Downeast harbors. The van will offer lobstermen the chance to try on and get information about several lifejacket options and to buy a lifejacket, if they wish, at a one-time discount price.
The first visit is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, May 17, at the town dock behind the firehouse in Blue Hill.
On Monday, May 20, the van is scheduled to be in Bass Harbor at the town dock in Bernard. On Tuesday, it will be at the Manset town dock in Southwest Harbor, on Wednesday at the marina in Northeast Harbor and on Thursday at the Bar Harbor Municipal Pier. All visits are scheduled for 10 a.m.
On Friday, the van is scheduled to head east, stopping in Lamoine at Lamoine State Park. After the Memorial Day weekend, the van is scheduled to be in Bunker’s Harbor on Tuesday, May 28, at the Corea Co-op on Wednesday May 29, and in Jonesport on Thursday, May 30. Just where the van will stop in Jonesport is yet to be determined.
An updated van schedule is posted on the Lifejackets for Lobstermen Facebook page. Lobstermen who want to buy a lifejacket and are exempt from the Maine sales tax should bring their exemption certificates with them.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), lobster fishing deaths accounted for the highest number of occupational fatalities in East Coast fisheries between 2010 and 2014. Half of those deaths resulted from falling overboard while another 30 percent came as a consequence of a vessel disaster. Based on fatality report narratives, none of the recovered victims was wearing a lifejacket.
For the past several years, researchers at the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (NEC) have been working with lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts to learn why lifejacket use is uncommon in the lobster fishery. The research has had the support of, among other groups, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association and McMillan Offshore Survival Training.
The outreach got underway in Maine last week, and the Lifejackets for Lobstermen van has already made stops in Point Pleasant Gut, Friendship, Tenants Harbor, Port Clyde, Spruce Head and Owls Head. The van is scheduled to be at the Rockland fish pier on Thursday, May 16.
“We’ve been working with lobstermen over the past few years to identify user-friendly, commercially available lifejackets and fortunately, we have identified many that lobstermen find appealing,” Project Coordinator Rebecca Weil said. “We have also discovered that choosing a lifejacket is really a matter of personal preference, so fishermen need to have a number of options to consider, as well as information on the various features that will likely meet their specific work needs.”