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Establishing Digital Biomarkers for Occupational Health Assessment in Commercial Salmon Fishermen: Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Study


Wilbur, Rachel E.; Griffin, Jacob S.; Sorensen, Mark V.; & Furberg, Robert D. (2018). Establishing Digital Biomarkers for Occupational Health Assessment in Commercial Salmon Fishermen: Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Study. JMIR Research Protocols, 7(12), e10215. PMCID: PMC6305878


BACKGROUND: Commercial salmon fishing in Alaska is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Between 1992 and 2008, the average annual industry mortality rate was 128 deaths per 100,000 workers, and despite an increase in industry regulations, there has not been a significant decrease in mortality rate since 2000. Unpredictable fishing openings and fierce competition for limited resources result in periods of intense sleep deprivation and physical strain during the short commercial salmon season in Alaska. OBJECTIVE: We hypothesize that the combined effect of sleep deprivation, intense physical workload, and significant short-term chronic stress may be deleterious to health in both the short- and long-term among commercial salmon drift gillnet fishermen in Alaska. The objective of this protocol is to determine the feasibility of the study design to test this hypothesis.
METHODS: The study design uses mixed methods and includes biometric monitoring consisting of heart rate variability, respiration, and movement data collected via a personal, wearable biometric device. Additional methods include observational data on activity, including duration and quality of sleep, weather, catch, and financial gain, as well as the collection of salivary cortisol. As such, the study will provide a holistic assessment of individual stress on multiple simultaneous timescales: immediately and continuously through the personal wearable biometric device, on the minute-hour level through the multiple daily collections of salivary cortisol, and by the hour-day through the use of participant and environment observational data.
RESULTS: Data collection was initiated in July 2017 and will extend through August 2019. Initial data collection has indicated that the methods outlined in this protocol are feasible and allow for effective collection of qualitative and quantitative data related to the psychological and physiological impact of Alaska commercial salmon fishing.
CONCLUSIONS: We anticipate that the use of a biometric device will be crucial in establishing measures of stress and physical activity within a population and environment uniquely challenged by physical isolation, strong weather patterns, and the potential for significant financial gain by fishermen. The potential exists for individuals engaged long-term in the fishing industry, through repeated and extended exposure to periods of intense sleep deprivation and chronic stress, to be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

JMIR Research Protocols


Wilbur, Rachel E.
Griffin, Jacob S.
Sorensen, Mark V.
Furberg, Robert D.