Legislation would expand life-saving safety training and research grant opportunities for the commercial fishing industry 

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington (December 1, 2023) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced the Fishing Industry Safety, Health, and Wellness Improvement (FISH Wellness) Act, bipartisan legislation that would build upon the success of the Commercial Fishing Occupational Safety Research & Training Program to better address the range of occupational safety and health risks facing fishermen in this highly strenuous and dangerous industry, including worker fatigue and substance use disorder. This legislation would also increase the authorized funding for the program and make these research and training grants more accessible on every coast by eliminating the match requirement.  

“Every day, our fishermen are faced with demanding and dangerous working conditions that take both a physical and mental toll, all while they work to bring food to the tables of families across the country,” said Senator Markey. “The FISH Wellness Act will provide much needed funding to ensure that fishermen are getting the information and resources they need to stay safe and healthy on the job.”

“Fishermen contend with extreme weather, long distances and periods away from shore and family, and often strenuous working conditions—factors that contribute to the industry being consistently ranked among the most dangerous in the country,” said Senator Sullivan. “I’m glad to introduce the FISH Wellness Act with Senator Markey, which would expand job safety training opportunities to support our fishermen as they sustainably harvest a world-class renewable resource and strengthen our coastal economies.”

A copy of the FISH Wellness Act can be found HERE.

Cosponsors in the Senate include Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Senators Markey, Sullivan, Shaheen, Collins, Murkowski, Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) introduced the Funding Instruction for Safety Health, and Security Avoids Fishing Emergencies (FISH SAFE) Act in 2019 and secured its inclusion in the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The legislation reauthorized the program and enacted a 75-percent federal cost share for fishing safety grants, an increase from the previous maximum of a 50-percent federal share. Senator Markey has also annually led an appropriations letter requesting full funding for these grant programs from the Fiscal Year of 2020 to the Fiscal Year of 2023. 

The FISH Wellness Act is endorsed by Fishing Partnership Support Services, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance, Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, Massachusetts Fishermen Partnership, Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, New England Young Fishermen's Alliance, Fishing Communities Coalition, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association.

“Thank you to Senator Markey for his support of this critically necessary legislation. Commercial fishing remains far too dangerous, and this legislation will move the industry forward in important ways,” said J.J. Bartlett, Founder of Fishing Partnership Support Services. “With this funding, fishermen are able to bring training to their home ports that will save lives. We’ve trained over 2,000 fishermen from Jonesport, Maine, to Wanchese, North Carolina since the grants began in the fall of 2019. Fishermen want and need more.”

“Industry-informed improvements to fishing vessel safety training, requirements and equipment have saved countless lives in small-boat, community-based fisheries throughout New England,” said Aubrey Church, Policy Manager of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. "Our organization applauds Senator Markey for introducing this bill. Expanding access to funding for health and safety programs will not only help the fishermen we know and support today, but also help create community-based safety nets for the young fishermen of tomorrow."

“As a coalition of fishermen, processors and distributors, we believe that addressing the needs of our frontline fishermen throughout the Commonwealth is essential to the infrastructure and ‘health’ of our seafood industry in Massachusetts,” said Roger Berkowitz, President of the Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative. “These challenges are only going to continue to increase for fishermen as climate change, perpetuated by global warming, is proving to be an existential threat to all those who earn their livelihoods on the water.”

“The health and safety of the fishermen is very important,” said Angela Sanfilippo, President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership. “As one old fisherman said, there are no ambulances out at sea. Thank you to Senator Markey for introducing this legislation that would expand the safety training program that has already helped to save so many lives.”

“Commercial fishermen are industrial athletes whose work takes a toll on both physical and mental health, and we are pleased to see health and wellness included in these critical programs,” said Monique Coombs, Director of Community Programs at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “This bill humanizes the work that fishermen do. Expanding access to physical and mental health support and training provides sustenance for our community fisheries and helps sustain the domestic seafood supply. We thank Senator Markey and Senator Collins for their outstanding support for our fishing communities’ wellbeing.”

“Providing our next generation of fishermen and women with the mental health and substance abuse care that they need is vital to the success of our industry,” said Andrea Tomlinson, Founder and Executive Director of New England Young Fishermen's Alliance. “Commercial fishing is the second most dangerous job in the US after logging, and these workers require extra mental and behavioral health support due to the strenuous and challenging conditions of this valuable trade.”

“The FISH Wellness Act will boost the delivery of regional safety programs by supporting fishing community members' physical wellness and mental health,” said Noah Oppenheim, Coordinator of the Fishing Communities Coalition. “The sponsors of this bill are supporting smart investments in commercial fishing safety programs that will save lives across the country.”

“Fishermen's health and wellness are critical but often overlooked aspects of functional and vibrant coastal communities,” said Theresa Peterson, Policy Director at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s Fisheries. “We applaud an expansion of the nation’s most successful fishermen's safety programs and bringing their funding opportunities in line with other CDC-funded health and safety grants.”

“Suicides and drug overdoses have become an increasingly large share of onboard fatalities in the commercial fishing industry. An updated program will better protect these critical domestic workers,” said Leann Cyr, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. “Currently, this is the only NIOSH program with a cost-share requirement. A waiver of the 25 percent match requirement will ensure that access to safety training in fishing communities will not be blocked by financial barriers.”

“The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association worked to save fishermen’s lives by empowering them with hands-on, data-informed training programs thanks to the funding it receives from this essential program,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Expanding this program to help fishermen understand and mitigate a wider range of professional health and safety risks will not only continue to save lives but also improve them. We thank Senators Markey, Sullivan, and Murkowski for their continued leadership supporting their coastal community constituents by introducing this bill.”

“Commercial fishermen throughout the Gulf of Mexico benefit from fleet-specific training and safety programs funded through the CDC, and this bill will only enhance these critical and lifesaving efforts,” said Eric Brazer, Deputy Director at the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “Our fishermen are facing unprecedented competition, from declining stocks to loss of access to working waterfronts, to reduced prices due to seafood imports, exacerbating the physical and mental toll of the day-to-day work from deck to dock. Expanding this program is an investment in quality of life for our seafood harvesters, which is needed now more than ever. We applaud Senator Markey and Senator Wicker for their support of lifesaving fishermen's safety training.”