Fishing Dangers on Both Coasts Getting Attention

Reports from NPR and BLS focused on fatalities and PPE in the U.S. commercial fishing industry, which has the highest fatality rate among all occupations since 2005.

NPR and the Bureau of Labor Statistics turned their attention recently to dangers in the U.S. commercial fishing industry. The NPR report by Curt Nickish asserted the Northeast fishery is the most deadly and mentioned a NIOSH study of deaths in the industry from 2000 to 2009, which said none of the workers who fell overboard and drowned had been wearing a life jacket.

The BLS report by Jill Janocha, an economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program, was posted Aug. 17 and covers injuries deaths in commercial fishing from 2003 to 2009. It says 31,000 people worked in the industry in 2009, and there were 334 fatalities that year. That equates to a fatal injury rate of 203.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, more than 50 times the 3.5 rate for all workers that year, she reported.

"The five states with the most fatalities during this period are also ones that are traditionally associated with fishing activities: Alaska (70), Massachusetts (39), Florida (29), Louisiana (25), and Oregon (25). In Alaska, this occupational group accounted for more than 30 percent of all the fatal workplace injuries that occurred from 2003 to 2009," she wrote.

Fishing has had the highest fatality rate among all occupations since 2005, Janocha reported, echoing Nickish's story.

"The size of the boat is often a factor in incidents involving fatal occupational injuries. In boating accidents in general, data compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard show that the size of the boat is a contributing factor, with incidents occurring in smaller boats more frequently. The size of the boat that was involved in the fatal injuries was identified in 131 of the 334 cases during the 2003–2009 period. Seventeen of the boats were less than 20 feet long, 37 were between 20 and 39 feet long, 37 were between 40 and 59 feet long, 20 were between 60 and 79 feet long, 14 were between 80 and 99 feet long, and 6 were over 100 feet long. Almost all of the incidents that involved fishing vessels less than 20 feet long were due to sinking or capsizing. The majority of the decedents of the vessels that were over 100 feet long fell from the ship or boat," she wrote.

(Her report does not name one of the best-known multi-fatality incidents involving a large ship during the period: the March 2008 sinking of the 189-foot bottom trawler Alaska Ranger in the Bering Sea, in which 42 of the 47 crew members were rescued.)

Falling overboard caused 97 deaths, 36 percent of the total, during 2003-2009. During that period, 121 fishing workers who died were killed in multi-fatality incidents, and eight of those 45 incidents killed at least four workers. Janocha reported that of these 121 fatally injured workers, 96 (79 percent) died on a sinking or capsizing water vehicle, 8 (7 percent) died during a fall from the ship or boat, and six (5 percent) died from a water vehicle collision. The type of fishing featured on the TV shows "Deadliest Catch," "Lobstermen," "Big Shrimpin'" and "Rajin Cajuns" are classified in the shellfish fishing industry, which accounts for almost half of the worker fatalities in the past seven years, she wrote.

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