Commercial Fishing Accidents – On-deck Dangers

As a commercial fisherman, you face a number of risks each day that you are out on the water, from high seas and unpredictable weather to hazardous equipment and chemical exposure. The number one risk that you face comes from hazards on deck. According to

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 12% of all commercial fishing fatalities are due to on-deck hazards.

Commercial Fishing Equipment – Useful, But Dangerous

Every commercial fishing vessel, regardless of type, is outfitted with machinery and equipment that makes the fisherman’s life easier and more profitable, but can also inflict life-changing injuries. Just about every type of fishing vessel possess a risk when they bring up tons of fish from the depths of the ocean, but certain vessels pose unique risks to crewmembers.

  • Trawlers – such as Ground Fishing Vessels – these boats are trawlers, which have large, weighted nets that are used to catch fish that reside on the bottom of the ocean, lake or river, like halibut, cod, rockfish, and flounder. Trawlers are rife with hazards such as cranes, nets, lines, winches, and pulleys that can do serious damage to a fisherman.
  • Crab & Lobster Vessels – the decks of these vessels, are often cluttered with crab and lobster pots that can cause a tripping and entanglement hazard.
  • Seiners – these vessels use surrounding nets to capture pelagic fish near the surface. Like trawlers, these vessels use pulleys and winches to raise heavy loads. They also possess wires that run from the vessel, through the net and back to the vessel that gathers the top of the net together. These wires pose significant risks to crewmembers.
  • Line Vessels – this fishing boat is characterized by the presence of long lines with thousands o f baited hooked strung along the vessel. The lines are stored in baskets or tubs on deck and are usually brought in on a hand drum. Equipment on line vessels includes rail rollers, hook separators, line haulers, hook cleaners and dehookers. All of this equipment has the potential to snag on flesh or take a crewmember overboard.

Injuries Caused by Commercial Fishing Equipment

Many commercial fishing accidents can be prevented by proper training of crew, which is the responsibility of the owner and operator of the vessel. Common fishing injuries include:

  • lacerations
  • bruises
  • concussions
  • amputations
  • dismemberments
  • mangled extremities
  • fractures
  • traumatic brain injuries
  • asphyxiation
  • paralysis
  • drowning
  • death

These injuries can be caused by any number of factors, including:

  • lack of proper training
  • equipment malfunctions
  • use of remotes on winches
  • loose clothing caught in winches, lines or nets
  • catching a body part in a net or line

Preventing Dangerous Equipment Injuries

Every fishing vessel owner has the duty to ensure that it is as safe as reasonably possible. This includes making sure that it is seaworthy, meaning all equipment is maintained in good working order, and safety mechanisms are in place, where they can be. It also means instituting a training program for all crew so that they are aware of how to operate all equipment on board the vessel in a safe manner.

If the owner and operator fail to ensure that these responsibilities are met, and injuries happen, then they may be found liable. State and federal maritime laws are in effect that allows injured commercial fishermen and their beneficiaries to sue their employer for negligence in causing injuries and death. The Jones Act, a federal maritime statute, provides this right, as well as the right to receive maintenance and cure benefits, regardless of whether the injury was caused by your employer. These benefits will pay for medical bills and reasonable living expenses and will provide an alternative wage while you are recovering.

Working as a fisherman on the high seas is the most dangerous job you can have. State and federal maritime laws protect your rights when you are injured while working.

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