The 'Deadliest Catch' No More

Efforts by the fishing industry, Coast Guard, and National Marine Fisheries Service have all contributed to the fleet's improved safety.

Here's a feel-good story: A NIOSH report released in Spring 2016 shows that safety in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island crab fleet has greatly improved since the 1990s, when it was the most hazardous commercial fishery in the United States and even spawned a hit Discovery Channel show. There were 73 crew members killed on the job from vessel disasters, falls overboard, or on-board injuries. The report prepared by Devin Lucas, Ph.D., Samantha Case, MPH, Theodore Teske, MA, Alexis DeLeon, BS, and Dimitreus Kloczko, BFA ("Assessment of Safety in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island Crab Fleet," DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2016-112) shows that between 2005/06 and 2012/13, 65 injuries in the fleet were reported to the Coast Guard, one of which one was fatal. The other 64 injuries ranged from minor to severe, but most were minor or moderate.

The authors say several factors contributed to the improvement: The U.S. Coast Guard in 1999 introduced an "At-the-Dock Stability and Safety Compliance Check" program, in which Coast Guard personnel checked crab vessels in Dutch Harbor before departure, and the fleet changed in 2005 from a derby-style race for fish to a quota-based system, which brought about an extended fishing season and smaller pot loads and also allowed for more experienced and potentially less fatigued crews, they found. Consolidation reduced the fishing fleet from an average of 243 vessels during 2001-2004 to 78 vessels during 2005-2010. Thus, efforts by the fishing industry, Coast Guard, and National Marine Fisheries Service have all contributed; further improvements in crew safety may come from analyzing the causes of nonfatal injuries and vessel casualties and developing focused interventions to address hazards, they write.

The 64 nonfatal crew injuries during 2005/06 to 2012/13 represent an injury rate of 12 injuries per 1,000 FTEs. Fractures were the most frequently reported injury (12/57, 21 percent); other common injuries included contusions (11, 19 percent), lacerations (10, 18 percent), and sprains, strains, and tears (8, 14 percent). Nine (26 percent) of the vessel casualties during the study period were classified as serious, meaning the vessel had to be rescued at sea and towed to port for repairs, but there were no vessel disasters (e.g., sinking, capsizing) during the study period.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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