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April 23, 2009


Commercial fishing, also known as industrial fishing, has been around for centuries. Fishing provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the world and employs between 80,000-160,000 fishermen in the U.S. alone (NIOSH, 2008). Although, the work is very beneficial and provides livelihood for many, the practice itself has remained unchanged and often involves long hours, far out from shore, under adverse conditions, which can result in a variety of consequences, including fatalities (McDonald & Kucera, 2007).

The high incidence of injury and fatality in the commercial fishing industry has brought about National concern (Van Noy, 1995). During 2000-2006, commercial fishing was considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States with an average annual fatality rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 fishermen (CDC, 2008). This rate is about 36 times greater than the fatality rate of all U.S. workers (NIOSH; Lincoln et al., 2008). Some of the major causes of fishing fatalities and injuries are falling overboard and drowning or dying from resulting hypothermia and equipment malfunctions (NIOSH, 2008).


April 28, 2009

Estimated Costs

According to NIOSH data from 2003; farming, fishing, and forestry occupations have the highest number of fatalities in the U.S. (7,936 people). The costs of these fatalities were roughly $3,774 million with an average of $482,000 per fatality (NIOSH, 2006). Data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Survey in 1993, ranked Alaska 1st in the number of workers employed in an agricultural, forestry, or fishing industry. Because there are such a high number of workers employed in the fishing industry in Alaska, there are also high costs associated with commercial fishing injuries and fatalities. Data from Waehrer et al. (2004) looked at statistics taken from the 1993 Bureau of Labor Survey, and found that Alaska has the highest % of costs resulting from fatalities (53.9%), with $160 million for non-fatal injuries and $187 million for fatal injuries. The data does not specify what occupations were the major contributors to the high costs, but because commercial fishing is one of the main industries in Alaska, one can speculate that it is playing a big factor.


Trends Over Time

During the early 1990’s, commercial fishing fatalities made up 33% of all occupational fatalities in Alaska (NIOSH, 2008). Because of the high fatality rates, safety improvements were made in the Alaska fisheries, mostly involving the implementation of new regulations and safety training programs. These programs have helped to decrease the number of injuries and fatalities in the Alaska fishing industry (NIOSH, 2008; NIOSH[2], 2008). Within the last 16 years (1990-2006), there has been a 51% decline of the rate of fatalities in Alaska Commercial Fishing (Lincoln, 2008).

Other U.S. states, specifically on the Pacific Coast, need similar safety interventions to decrease fatalities. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has studied data on commercial fishing fatalities from California, Oregon, and Washington during 2000-2006. They found that the average annual fatality rate for the three states combined was 238 deaths per 100,000 (CDC, 2008). Trends show that during these six years, the annual fatality for California, Oregon, and Washington was twice as high as both the national average fatality rates and the Alaska fishing fatalities (Lincoln, 2008). Implementation of new regulations and safety training similar to the programs developed in Alaska may help decrease fatality rates.



April 29, 2009

Risk Factors


Data from the House Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation in 1971 showed that four types of injury events accounted for over 80% of the total annual casualties nationwide in the commercial fishing occupation (Redfield, 1971).

• Machinery Failure (26%)
• Collision (21%)
• Grounding (19%)
• Flooding/Sinking (17%)

A more recent review of fatalities resulting from commercial fishing was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard during 1994-2004. The results from the study showed that in addition to the four types of injury events above, falls overboard were also a major cause of injury and fatalitity.

• Falling Overboard (29%)

The book entitled Out on the Deep Blue, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (2001), discusses the occupation of commercial fishing and what governs the activities:

“Tasks are done fast forward, so repetitive and at such speeds and for such a length of time that they are best done unthinkingly, instinctively, automatically. Your worth, both economic and personal, is often measured in terms of how fast you can bait the halibut hooks, how quickly you can pick fish, how long you can work without sleep.” (p. viii)

Additional Risk Factors:

• Working long hours
• Working at a fast pace
• Tiredness
• Inattention
• Behavioral determinants (carelessness, unsafe movement/practice)
• Type of fishery (Crab Fishing)
• Equipment Used
• Job of crewman (Deckman)


Factors Limiting Progress

Currently both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are responsible for the safety of commercial fishermen. Because OSHA only has jurisdiction 3 miles from the shoreline, the USCG is the main enforcer (Lincoln et al., 2008). However, efforts to maintain safety have been mostly voluntary and formed in pieces (Van Noy, 1995). In 1988, the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act (CFIVSA) was developed. The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing the Act by conducting vessel inspections to check for drugs, illegal fishing, and safety violations (CDC, 2008).


• Inspections are NOT conducted on a regular basis
• Primary concerns of CFIVSA is to save lives AFTER ship has gone under
• NOT preventive measures
• U.S. Coast Guard enforcement limited
• LACK of safety equipment on board
• LACK of training on how to use equipment
• NO unions for small scale fishermen
• INCOMPLETE data (U.S. Coast Guard databases)

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) was formed to provide safety training (Marine Safety Instructor-Training) to Alaska’s fishing communities. In 1991, the AMSEA developed a drill instructor course that focused on use of survival equipment and procedures on what to do if there is a vessel casualty. Between the years of 1991 and 2000, a total of 4,000 people were certified by AMSEA reducing the number of fishing vessel fatalities in Alaska (Dzugan, 2000). A study by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2000, found that those fishermen on vessels containing AMSEA trained drill instructors were 1.7 times more likely to survive a fishing vessel incident than vessels without trained individuals (Dzugan, 2000).

Problems with Training Program:

• NO required refresher course
• NOT all fishermen are required to take survival course
• NEED for additional programs globally

The prevalence of occupational injuries and fatalities in commercial fishing is a huge problem that needs to be resolved. Creating stricter policies regarding training, inspections, and safety programs will help enforce/ensure safety. Improving the statistics and databases on injury/fatal events will help us better understand the magnitude of the problem and see where prevention and control can be implemented.


April 30, 2009

Epidemiological Approach for Prevention and Control

Creating a Haddon’s Matrix and analyzing the interaction of behavior, environment, and policy is one way to identify preventive measures and research needs (Robertson, 2007).




Physical Environment

Social Environment


Alcohol and Drug Use; Attention span; Employee training; ability to swim; fatigue

Safety equipment available (life boats); condition of vessel during inspections; vehicle capacity; operating radios; flares; maps

Weather conditions; visibility; depth of water; warning signs; radios to contact US coast guards

Training programs offered for equipment use; safety regulations: use of life vests; proper inspections on vessel; Alcohol consumption laws


Human tolerance to water impact temperature tolerance (drowning/hypothermia); use of life jackets

Crash worthiness of the vessel; impact capacity; ability to reduce speed

Height of waves; depth of water; amount of impacts; integrity of vessel

Mandated use of safety equipment


Health status: Fatal or Non Fatal; Age of Occupant/Ability to recover and other Health issues

Ability of vessel to be repaired; burn-resistant features; placement of fuel tanks

Availability of effective and timely emergency response

Workmen's compensation; medical bills; support and medical rehabilitation services; Unions to support small scale fishing operations

• Employee Training and Safety Awareness (safety protocols and equipment use)
• Eliminate inexperienced workers
• Set reasonable work hours to reduce fatigue and inattention

• Inspections on a regular basis
• Maintenance of vessels
• Availability of safety equipment (life rafts and immersion suits)

Environmental/Social Factors:
• Watch for weather advisories
• Proper equipment (radios, maps)
• Emergency response plans
• Creation of unions for small scale operations
• Develop Safety Regulations to help decrease insurance costs