Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety

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Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety

Fishing has always carried risk, and it continues to be one of the most dangerous ways to earn a living. Books like Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm and popular reality television shows such as The Deadliest Catch help to highlight the hazards faced by fishermen. These workers often harvest, load, transfer, and store their catch while their vessel is at sea; weather can be dangerous, safety training can be inadequate, and vessels can prove to be unseaworthy. Even with the technological advances of the 21st century, commercial fishing vessel safety is a global concern.

By the Numbers

In 2008, the Transport Safety Board of Canada (TSBC 2014a) did a comprehensive review of commercial fishing safety. Statistics from that year put the number of commercial fishing vessels in Canada at more than 16,800, representing vessels owned by a substantial number of owner-operators and a few large companies. The value of commercially landed seafood in Canada that year was just under $1.9 billion. During the decade between 1999 and 2008, an average of 14 fishers died each year as a result of accidents (TSBC, 2013b).
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention categorized US fishing vessel deathsfor the period 2000 through 2010. The organization found that more than half of all fatalities (51%) occurred after a vessel disaster. Another 31% of fatalities occurred when a fisherman fell overboard, while 10% resulted from an injury onboard. The remaining 7% of fatalities occurred while diving, or from onshore injuries (CDC, 2014).
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that, on a global basis, more than 24,000 fishers lose their lives annually. Each year, many more are injured (IMO, 2014)

Working Towards Safer Commercial Fishing Practices

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada identified several areas of concern. (TSBC 2013c) These included:
  • Stability. Investigators found that principles of fishing vessel stability were often not understood properly, or were ignored. Weather, waves, and fishing conditions for the entire journey must all be taken into account so as to avoid capsizing.
  • Fisheries resource management. When resource management doesn’t reflect safety at all levels, fishers are put at risk.
  • Lifesaving appliances. Accidents can turn deadly if lifesaving devices are not properly designed, carried, or maintained.
  • Approach to safety. Commercial fishing enterprises often fail to take a proactive approach to the question of safety, relying instead on regulations.
  • Training. Deficiencies in training, including lack of training/retraining and improper training fail to adequately protect fishers.
  • Cost. Captains are sometimes reluctant to spend money on safety measures.
  • Industry Statistics. The lack of reliable data makes it hard for the industry to accurately identify risks and make correct recommendations.
  • Unsafe work practices. Despite best efforts, some fishermen engage in unsafe practices.
  • Fatigue. Fishermen are often overtired, and fatigue is known to be a major factor in accidents in every field (TSBC, 2014d).
Industry leaders, governments, and various organizations are working to address these types of concerns and to mitigate the dangers of commercial fishing. In the US, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (CDC 2014b) has a list of recommendations for fishers and their employers. These include such common sense directions as ensuring that all crew members have regular safety training, wearing a personal flotation device at all times when on deck, heeding weather forecasts, inspecting the vessel regularly to ensure that it’s watertight, and conducting monthly emergency drills.
In Canada, provincial organizations such as BC’s Fish Safe, funded by both industry and government, work to improve safety for commercial vessels of all sizes. Fish Safe features fishermen mentoring more inexperienced workers, PR campaigns aimed at increasing the use of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), and hands-on stability workshops (FSBC, 2014).
Unfortunately, accidents often occur globally on vessels that are "IUU,” or "illegal, unregulated, and unreported.” Organizations such as the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF, 2014) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF 2014) are working to reduce the number of these vessels, which also pose a threat to the sustainability of fish stocks worldwide. Clover Leaf, a proud sponsor of ISSF, does not purchase from vessels engaging in IUU fishing. Fishing must be legal and reported in order for the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to be successful.
While fishing remains one of the world’s most dangerous occupations (FAO 2014), industry, government, and international organizations are working together to improve commercial fishing vessel safety. 

Works Cited

Transport Safety Board of Canada (TSBC 2013a), Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada Retrieved October 21, 2014.

Transport Safety Board of Canada (TSBC 2013b, Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, Report Number M09Z0001. Retrieved October 21, 2014. (Number of vessels in Canada, Value of commercial fishing in Canada, Number of fishers killed, 1999 – 2008)

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2014a,) Commercial Fishing Safety, Retrieved October 23, 2014 (US fishing vessel deaths, NIOSH recommendations)

International Maritime Organization (IMO, 2014,) Fishing vessel safety, Retrieved October 21, 2014 (Worldwide deaths of fishers)

Transport Safety Board of Canada (TSBC 2013c,) Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, Report Number M09Z0001. Retrieved October 21, 2014. (Areas of concern)

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2014b,) About NIOSH Retrieved October 23, 2014 (NIOSH)

Fish Safe BC (FSBC 2013,) About Fish Safe, Retrieved October 27, 2014 (Fish Safe BC program)

Miguel Jorge, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF, 2014,) A Holistic Approach to Ending IUU Retrieved October 21, 2014 (ISSF initiatives to combat IUU)

WWF 2014, Fishing problems: Pirate fishing Retrieved October 23, 2014 (WWF initiatives to combat IUU)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2014, Safety at Sea, Fishing: Dangerous Occupation Retrieved October 28, 2014 (Most dangerous occupation in the world)

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