Commercial Fishing One of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the U.S.

From 1992 to 2008, for every 100,000 workers in the United States commercial fishing industry, 128 died. Compare that to a rate of four deaths per 100,000 workers in the U.S. workforce as a whole.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that between 2000 and 2009, more Gulf of Mexico shrimpers and Atlantic scallop fishermen died than any other fishery type. But when you look by region at the rate of death (the number of deaths compared to population), the waters off the coast of Alaska were the deadliest fishing area. 

The CDC says an average of 58 fishermen a year died on the job from 1992 to 2008. In the 1990s, regulators identified and addressed hazards in Alaska, and the rate of deaths there dropped.

The CDC reports:

"Among the 504 U.S. commercial fishing deaths, the majority occurred after a vessel disaster (261 deaths, 52%) or a fall overboard (155 deaths, 31%). By region, 133 (26%) deaths occurred off the coast of Alaska, 124 (25%) in the Northeast, 116 (23%) in the Gulf of Mexico, 83 (16%) off the West Coast, and 41 (8%) in the Mid- and South Atlantic."

Of the deaths in which the type of fishing was known, the deadliest was shellfishing, which accounted for close to half of the deaths (47 percent). The data also shows:

"Of those fisheries for which average annual fatality rates could be calculated, the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery had the highest rate (600 deaths per 100,000 FTEs), followed by the Atlantic scallop fleet (including the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions) (425 deaths per 100,000 FTEs) and the West Coast Dungeness crab fleet (310 deaths per 100,000 FTEs) (Table 2).

"Other fishery-specific fatality rates were calculated for the Bering Sea Aleutian Island crab fleet (260 deaths per 100,000 FTEs), Alaska halibut (130 deaths per 100,000 FTEs), and Alaska salmon (115 deaths per 100,000 FTEs). The fisheries with the highest number of fatalities were Gulf of Mexico shrimp (55), Atlantic scallop (44), and Alaskan salmon (39) (Table 2)."

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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