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  • Writer's pictureMonique Coombs

Fishermen Wellness: Cultural Competency

What is Cultural Competency Training and Why Is It Important?

Have you ever been told to take time off from fishing by a healthcare provider and felt like they didn’t understand that their advice was not in-line with your values, your job, or your lifestyle? Have you ever tried to schedule an appointment and mentioned that you were a commercial fisherman and the person on the other end of the line didn’t understand how that impacts your schedule, or why it is a potential point of stress when trying to schedule something?

Commercial fishermen have unique needs when it comes to healthcare, and understanding those needs, the occupational hazards, and the mental and physical challenges faced by fishermen is critical to fishermen being able to access the healthcare support they need. Healthcare workers can deliver more comprehensive and tailored care by learning about the cultural nuances and challenges faced by commercial fishermen, and this can be done via cultural competency training.

What is cultural competency training?

Cultural competency training is a form of education and professional development aimed at enhancing someone’s understanding, knowledge, and skills in working effectively with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, like commercial fishing families. Basically, cultural competency training equips healthcare workers with the knowledge required to provide appropriate and relevant care to Maine fishermen. It’s important for healthcare workers in Maine that work with fishermen to have a basic understanding of the industry and its stressors to appropriately care for fishermen, for building relationships based on trust, and for improved communications and health outcomes.

How and where is cultural competency training offered?

Colleges, universities, and organizations can offer cultural competency training to students, staff, and clinicians by partnering with experts. The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association has partnered with organizations like the Co-Occurring Collaborative Serving Maine (CCSME) and Oasis Free Clinics to offer cultural competency training to counselors, LCSWs, and therapists. In these trainings, we share what commercial fishing is, what the current stressors are (i.e., regulations, development), and encourage people to consider things like scheduling outside of normal business hours for fishermen or understanding that cancellations may occur depending on the weather. All the training we have done thus far have been offered via zoom or webinar.

What are some of the things that are shared in cultural competency training?

  • Mental health challenges like isolation and extended periods of time spent away from family during the busy fishing season.

  • Occupational stress like increasing regulations and fluctuating (and increasing) costs of doing business that lead to growing uncertainty and an inability to plan around difficult circumstances.

  • Potential existential threats like offshore wind development and new gear technology and regulations.

  • Everything depends on the weather which makes planning and scheduling difficult and even anxiety-inducing if fishermen are worried about being charged for missed appointments.

  • Cultural vernacular: helping people understand terms and phrases that fishermen regularly use like “putting the boat on the hook” or “steaming for home”.

  • Physical risks like dealing with poor weather, slippery decks, and heavy gear, and information like, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) commercial fishing has one of the highest occupational fatality rates compared to other industries.

Cultural competency training is essential for healthcare workers seeking to better serve Maine fishermen involved in the commercial fishing industry. It enables healthcare workers to grasp the unique stressors associated with the commercial fishing industry and allows for more accurate diagnoses, targeted interventions, and appropriate referrals for support services.

Together, we persevere.


For more information about MCFA's Fishermen Wellness program and to find resources and information for commercial fishermen about mental health and wellness, please visit




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