Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Some aspects of the job are simply inherently dangerous. Commercial fishermen work outside and are exposed to extremes in weather under perpetually wet conditions while their entire workplace shifts underfoot in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways.
Fishermen Have Higher Than Average Fatality Rates
Studies have proven the danger. A recently concluded multi-year study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that while the number of workplace fatalities for all U.S. workers was about four per 100,000; the number of fatalities in commercial fishing was about 128 deaths per 100,000. Over a ten-year period, most often the fatalities were the result of either a vessel disaster (52 percent) or a fall overboard (31 percent). The remainder occurred either while diving or on shore (7 percent).
One quarter of the fatal fishing boat accidents happened in the Northeast coast of the U.S. Fishing activities with the highest fatality rates were primarily fishing for shellfish, groundfish, or pelagic fish.
Non-Fatal Accidents at Sea
The same dangers responsible for the elevated workplace deaths among fishermen are also responsible for many of the injuries they suffer. In addition, workplace conditions that can be controlled have also been found to cause injuries. These include those related to the status of the vessel. Hazards that can be prevented include:
- Improperly secured portholes and hatches
- Broken safety rails and guards
- Decks, gangways, and ladders without skid-proofed surfaces
- Decks that are cluttered
- Equipment that is defective or inadequately maintained
Negligent or reckless behavior can also cause serious injury. Choosing to fish in unsafe weather conditions, piloting negligently or recklessly, and inadequately training and supervising crew members can all contribute to the incidence and severity of workplace accidents and injuries.
The simple act of doing their job has also caused fishermen to be injured – even if all other activities have been responsibly addressed. Injuries such as repetitive motion injury (RMI) can result from unloading traps and nets and from line handling. Fishermen can get caught in netting, rigging, cables, and machinery while working. They can lose their balance and fall overboard.
Compensation for Injuries
If a seaman gets injured on the job, there are a series of maritime-specific laws that allow for compensation. The form of compensation will be determined by a number of factors, including: the type of marine work that was performed (seaman or longshoreman); whether negligent behavior was in part responsible for the injury; and whether the vessel itself was seaworthy.
Under the Commercial Fishing Safety Act, fishermen are entitled to protections similar to workers’ compensation called maintenance and cure, which provides monetary damages for lost wages, costs for necessary household expenses, and reasonable medical expenses.
Additional compensation may be available under different maritime laws or common law. If the injury of death occurred on a vessel that was not seaworthy, then the injured worker or survivor of the deceased worker can recover under general maritime law.
If negligence or recklessness on the part of the vessel owner or operator played a part in the injury and/or death, then injured seamen can recover for negligence damages under the Jones Act.
Safer Commercial Fishing is Possible
Despite the somewhat grim statistics, the number of injuries among commercial fishermen has declined since the early 1990s. The improvement may be due to interventions including marine safety training and fishery-specific solutions that addressed hazards particular to the fishing activity. The Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act was passed in 1998 and imposes stricter regulations on the marine industry. It requires vessel owners and operators comply with safety regulations such as providing emergency equipment (varies depending on the vessel size and operating area).
Periodic marine safety training, use of personal flotation devices (PFDs), equipping vessels with man-overboard alarm systems, and installing emergency stop devices on hydraulic deck machinery to prevent entanglement injuries can all contribute to safer commercial fishing operations.
South Jersey Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Fight for Commercial Fishermen Injured on the Job
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured while fishing commercially, the best way to obtain the maximum amount of compensation for your losses is to contact a lawyer with significant maritime law experience. At Freedman & Lorry, P.C., we have been advancing the interests of merchant seamen and obtaining full and fair compensation for them since 1945. Call 888-999-1962 today or submit an online contact form to arrange a free consultation with a seasoned South Jersey maritime lawyer. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey serve clients throughout South Jersey, including the areas of Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood. We also have offices in Pinehurst to assist clients in North Carolina.