In 2019, there was a positive 15% on the tests conducted among non-credentialed mariners in the Sector Anchorage area, a giant swath of coastline and sea covering the majority of Alaskan waters.

Yet, the positive test rate increased by 22% in the first half of 2020. It is noted that the most common drug detected among mariners was marijuana.

To remind, the sale, possession and use of marijuana are broadly legal under state law in every West Coast state, including Alaska, and polling indicates that about 15% of all adults in the western United States use the substance. However, both federal law and Alaska state law prohibit its use aboard commercial fishing vessels, and federal law still prohibits its use in general. Unlike alcohol, marijuana's active ingredient can often be detected by standard drug testing weeks after its use.

Concerning the use of drugs onboard, the USCG launched new guidance to address all challenges facing employers to conduct mandatory drug testing during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

In the meantime, another concerning trend observed by inspectors with the Coast Guard Marine Safety Task Force relates to unserviceable or missing life-saving equipment aboard commercial fishing vessels.

From June 8 through 22, members of the task force removed 119 immersion suits during commercial fishing vessel exams in the King Salmon area because they were not in serviceable condition. Most vessel owners replaced the unserviceable suits with new ones to be in compliance. Mariners should have required safety equipment aboard, ensure the equipment is maintained and in good condition, and be familiar with its use prior to an emergency.