SOUTH PORTLAND –– A free training course held Thursday at the Coast Guard station drew 44 Maine fishermen who were taught skills designed to improve safety in one of the most dangerous jobs in America.

The session, hosted by Fishing Partnership Support Services in cooperation with the Coast Guard and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, taught such skills as fire-fighting, damage control, cardiopulmonary resuscitation – and even how to swim in a bulky immersion survival suit.

Jeff Riccio, a fisherman for 10 years, said the program was useful.

“I’ve never had an accident myself,” Riccio said, “but a couple of years ago, my friends’ boat burned. Luckily, they got out fine, they were saved and are fishing again now.”

According to Luis Catala, safety training coordinator at Fishing Partnership Support Services, nearly 90 percent of the fishermen participating in the program said it was the first safety course they had attended. The fishing partnership is a nonprofit group that provides an array of services for fishing families in New England.

“Access to training is unheard of,” Catala said. “With the fishing partnership, we’ve been able to make this offer free of charge, we’ve been able to bring it to the fishermen, and it’s really gathering a lot of momentum.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks commercial fishing second only to logging in terms of work-related deaths, with an annual average of 46 fatalities from 2000 to 2010. For Catala, a Coast Guard veteran, this illustrates the importance of the safety courses.

“Awareness is key,” he said. “Fishing is never going to be less dangerous, but you can be better prepared to work in a dangerous environment. The fact that we’re getting new folks with little experience into this program is a good thing.”

Sam Norman can be contacted at 791-6366 or at:

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