Stressful jobs

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Commercial fisherman knows strain

By Nancy Kennedy

CRYSTAL RIVER — Even before commercial grouper fisherman Kirby Klys drops his line into the Gulf waters 60 to 120 miles from shore, he’s loaded his boat with 4,000 pounds of ice. 


He’s packed the boat with enough supplies for the 10 days he’ll be out in open water. He’s chosen — hopefully — a compatible crew person and he’s prayed for good weather.

“The allure of commercial fishing is being out on the water, watching the sunsets and dolphins swim by,” he says.

Even so, he says if he knew when he started what he knows now he’d probably be a certified nursing assistant in a hospital instead.

At 60, Klys has been doing this for the past 18 years.

April is National Stress Awareness Month, and the job of a commercial fisherman can be counted among the most stressful.

According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress is the major source of stress for Americans today. However, it’s not necessarily the job itself that causes the most stress, although some jobs are more stressful than others, but the “person-environment fit.”

Some people thrive in a pressure cooker or in the fast lane, multi-tasking and making split-second decisions. For them, a quiet, routine, slow-paced job would send their stress level rising through the roof.

“The primary stress in the Gulf of Mexico for commercial fishermen is as much psychological as physical,” Klys says.  

For him and other commercial fishermen, the stress comes from: long hours, being away from home for days at a time, storms or disruptive weather events, the repetitive nature of the work, not getting good sleep, irregular eating schedule, plus the financial pressure to catch enough fish to make a living.

“There’s a lot of expense involved with that boat leaving the dock,” he says. “It costs me $1,200 just to leave.”

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Klys’ day on the water begins before dawn. 

He likes to begin with a time of prayer and quiet reflection and a cup of coffee. He wakes his crew member; they eat breakfast, then it’s time to find an area with lots of fish. As they pull them into the boat, they’ll gut the fish and put them in icy slush water. Hour after hour, day after day.

“What ends a trip is running out of ice, running out of fuel or running out of bait, or a weather event,” Klys says, adding that he personally doesn’t view bad weather as a stressor. He uses it as down time to relax and read a book.  

 “If you’re doing this as a job to pay your mortgage, then you have to perform,” he says. “You have to be prepared to work in most weather conditions, and if there’s a storm, it might mean you add another day or two to your trip out.”

Then when the fisherman returns home, he has a family and a house to deal with, which has stresses of a different nature.

“I would not have done this when I had young kids at home,” Klys says. “There’s not a lot of recruitment, not many younger people coming into this business, mostly for financial reasons. It’s expensive up front, and a highly regulated business. The government tells you how much you’re allowed to take out of the gulf.

“It’s long hours and low pay and you don’t sleep as well at sea as you do in your own bed,” he says. “But some things in life have a natural attraction, and fishing is one of them. And the sunsets are beautiful.”


Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.