FishAbility: Fishing with Diabetes

FishAbility, Fishing for a Lifetime, part of Maine AgrAbilityBy Brie Weisman, Occupational Therapist
Also published by
Commercial Fisheries News, June 2021

Roughly 10.5% of the U.S. population has diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is largely due to excess body weight and physical inactivity; and as a result, the body doesn’t use insulin properly. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to serious health issues. Fishermen with diabetes have additional challenges to address to remain safe such as wound care, managing medication, diet, foot care, and neuropathy.

  • Fishermen have a high risk of cuts, nicks, and scrapes, and healing is slower in wet environments. Perform daily skin checks to address any small wounds before they worsen, and keep wounds dry. Cleaning and dressing wounds is a priority.
  • Checking blood glucose levels requires consistency and is necessary, but trying to stick your finger to check levels on a rocking boat can be frustrating. Talk to your PCP about a continuous blood glucose monitor, which automatically monitors glucose levels and can even work with automatic delivery systems.
  • Eating in a timely manner helps control blood sugar, but scheduled eating of healthy foods can be difficult on a boat.
 Talk to a diabetic nurse educator about good food choices for diabetics eating on the go.
  • Blistered and damaged feet are a serious threat to diabetics. Make sure your footwear fits well and will keep you as dry as possible. Check feet daily for wounds.
  • Neuropathy in the hands can lead to dropping items or having difficulty picking up gear and handling tools. Loss of feeling in the legs and feet means an increased risk of tripping or getting entangled in gear. Use ergonomic and modified tools that are easier to grip.

Boat crews are teams and should be aware of health issues. Alert the entire crew of the needs and practices of diabetic crew members.

Keeping it Local

two nurses preparing vaccines inside a boat on the water
Photo credit: Maine Seacoast Mission

Sharon Daley is a nurse serving as Director of Island Health Services for the Maine Seacoast Mission.

The mission began operation in 1905. Created by two ministers reaching out to islanders to provide for health, education, and basic necessities, and tend to spiritual needs.

What is your role within the mission?

“20 years ago, I was hired to do tele-medicine on the boat. Sunbeam is a 75’ boat bringing resources and a staff of about five to about a dozen island communities. We promote community by providing a gathering place, activities and free meals aboard the ship, and health care.”

And your favorite part about your work?

“The island communities and people. People will say, even if they don’t come on the boat, ‘when I see it in the harbor, I feel better’.”

What are common fisherman ailments you see?

“Backs, carpal tunnel syndrome, foot issues, shoulders injuries from hauling, tugging and repetitive motions.”

What adaptive equipment have you seen that you like?

“A mat that diabetic people step on that shows them hot areas where ulcers are forming even before the skin breaks down. It’s affordable.”

What is the one thing you can’t leave the dock without?

“My keys, which I have done once.”