CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University outreach team is working with fishing industry groups to survey West Coast commercial fishermen and their families about their health insurance needs.

The survey, being launched this month, seeks to determine whether commercial fishing families are going without adequate health insurance, and whether an industry-wide group plan might be a solution.

Concerns about finding comprehensive, affordable group health insurance have been discussed for years in commercial fishing circles. Typically self-employed, fishermen have a hard time finding group coverage, and many fishing families either pay too much for the insurance, or go without.

"With all the limits being placed on fishing families these days, it's getting harder for them to shoulder these costs," said Connie Kennedy, families support chair for the Women's Coalition for Pacific Fisheries and a fishing family coordinator for Oregon Sea Grant's Fishing Families Project.

The random, confidential survey will contact commercial fishing boat owners and crew in Oregon, California, Washington and Alaska and attempt to gather hard data about their families' health insurance needs, and how a system might be designed to meet those needs.

Surveying is scheduled to be completed by the end of April, and results will be analyzed by the OSU Survey Research Center before being presented to the fishing industry and to insurance industry and legislative decision-makers late this spring .

The survey is being sponsored by the Fishing Families Coalition, a group that grew out of a 1997 televised workshop sponsored by Sea Grant's Fishing Families Project. The workshop brought together fishing family members from northern California to southwest Washington, along with Congressional representatives and industry groups, including the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Women's Coalition for Pacific Fisheries.

Sponsors hope to survey at least 3,200 households across the region. The sample is being drawn from commercial fishing license rosters in each state. Fishing families who do not receive surveys also may submit comments about their own health insurance needs.

For more information, contact Flaxen Conway, director of the OSU Fishing Families Project and Extension Sea Grant community outreach specialist, at 541-737-1418.

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Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1418