COMMERCIAL FISHING SAFETY
New Product SpotlightFalling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified.
Commercial Fishing in the U.S.
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Many commercial fishing operations are characterized by hazardous working conditions, strenuous labor, long work hours and harsh weather. During 2000-2010, an annual average of 46 deaths occurred (124 deaths per 100,000 workers), compared with an average of 5,466 deaths (4 per 100,000 workers) among all U.S. workers.1 In 2008, over 8 billion pounds of seafood was harvested in the United States earning over $4.4 billion. Species that contributed the most to this revenue include shrimp, Pacific salmon, pollock and lobster. There are approximately 115,000 harvesters in the United States using a variety of different fishing gear and vessels.2
NIOSH maintains the Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID), a surveillance system for workplace fatalities in the commercial fishing industry in the United States. A review of the data from 2000-2010 found that (see Figure 1):
- 545 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the U.S.
- More than half of all fatalities (279, 51%) occurred after a vessel disaster
- Another 170 (31%) fatalities occurred when a fisherman fell overboard
- Another 56 (10%) fatalities resulted from an injury onboard
- The remaining 40 (7%) fatalities occurred while diving or from onshore injuries
Figure 1: US Commercial Fishing Fatalities by Year and Incident Type 2000-2010 (N=545)
There were 279 fatalities that occurred from 148 separate vessel disasters. Of these incidents with known causes†:
- 40 (28%) were initiated by flooding
- 27 (19%) were initiated by vessel instability
- 26 (18%) were initiated by being struck by a large wave
- Severe weather conditions contributed to 148 (61%) of the fatal vessel disasters
Among the 170 fatalities that resulted from a person falling overboard and with known causes†:
- 90 (57%) were not witnessed
- Regardless of cause, none* (0%) of the fall overboard victims were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD)
A review of commercial fishing fatalities from 2000-2009 identifies the most hazardous fishing regions and fisheries around the U.S. NIOSH divides the country into four major fishing regions: Alaska, West Coast, East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. Based on the overall number of fatalities during the past decade, the East Coast had the most fatalities followed by Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the West Coast (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: U.S. Commercial Fishing Fatalities by Region 2000-2009 (504 Total*)
The most hazardous fisheries in the U.S. based on overall number of fatalities from 2000-2009 are (see Table 1):
- Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery with 55 fatalities
- Atlantic scallop fishery with 44 fatalities
- Alaska salmon fishery with 39 fatalities
- Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery with 26 fatalities
- Alaska cod fishery with 26 fatalities
- West Coast Dungeness crab fishery with 25 fatalities
- Alaska sole fishery with 21 fatalities
NIOSH has contracted with the Natural Resource Consultants, Inc. to establish workforce estimates (Full Time Equivalents, FTE) for individual fisheries across the US when data are available to make these estimates. The most hazardous fisheries in the U.S. based on fatality rates from 2000-2009 are (see Table 1):
- Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery, 600 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
- Atlantic scallop fishery, 425 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
- West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, 310 fatalities per 100,000 FTEs
|Fishery||Fatalities||FTE||Annual rate per 100,000 FTEs|
|Northeast multispecies groundfish||26||4,340||600|
|Gulf of Mexico snapper/grouper||10||—||—|
|West Coast Dungeness crab¶||25||8,092||310|
|Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab||12||4,658||260|
|Gulf of Mexico shrimp||55||—||—|
|Gulf of Mexico oyster||11||—||—|
|West Coast tribal salmon||10||—||—|
* Rates were calculated by dividing the total number of fatalities for the 10-year period by total annual FTEs.
§ Includes the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
¶ Excludes two Washington tribal crab fatalities, which are not included in the FTE count.
** Fisheries with <10 fatalities each.
These data illustrate that occupational risk factors vary by region and fishery. Intervention programs should focus on fleet-specific hazards that lead to injuries. Interventions need to be tailored to specific fisheries, with an emphasis on the prevention of vessel disasters in the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery, the Atlantic scallop fleet, and the West Coast Dungeness crab fleet. Additional efforts also need to focus on preventing falls overboard particularly among Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishermen and increasing PFD usage among all crew members.
For more detail on these findings please refer to the published report in the July 16, 2010 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). For details on a particular fishing region, please refer to regional profiles published by NIOSH that summarize fatal occupational injuries, unique risk factors, and recommendations for each region.
NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program is dedicated to providing our stakeholders high quality, relevant information that has direct impact on the safety of fishermen around the United States. The program’s research has been used by the industry, government agencies, and fishing safety advocates to inform policy decisions and, educate workers about the safety hazards and solutions evaluated in the research. These intermediate outcomes provide examples of how NIOSH research is translated to practice by our stakeholders.
Impacts made by the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program:
The NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program affects National Policy.
- In November 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released recommendations to the US Coast Guard to improve commercial fishing safety in the United States. NIOSH testimony during the NTSB Fishing Vessel Safety Forum in October 2010 was cited extensively for the foundation of these recommendations. The NTSB invited NIOSH to sit on three expert panels during the Fishing Vessel Safety Forum. The goals of the forum were (1) to identify safety issues in the industry from the perspective of both industry and government, and (2) to identify strategies for preventing accidents and reducing the commercial fishing industry's unacceptably high injury and fatality rate.
- In April 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek input on changing the guidelines that NMFS uses to assess safety hazards during their fisheries management policy development process. NMFS invited NIOSH to provide technical guidance during this process. Recent work by NIOSH has shown that the fishery management process can more explicitly address safety at sea by analyzing fishing hazards in a more structured way.
- In September 2010, Congress passed the US Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 – Pub.L. 111-281. The Act contains instructions to the US Coast Guard to prevent vessel loss, falls overboard, and severe injuries in the commercial fishing industry and to improve safety training. These recommendations were based partly on NIOSH Congressional Testimony in the Spring of 2007. During the testimony, NIOSH shared an analysis of fatality data for the industry and gave examples of successful intervention efforts that were conducted in Alaska resulting in a decline in the fishing fatality rate in that region.
The NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program assists the US Coast Guard in identifying specific hazards in each region of the country.
- The US Coast Guard has entered an MOA with NIOSH creating a data sharing agreement. The two organizations are working together to improve data quality in USCG investigations. In addition, several requests have been made by various offices in the USCG for data from the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID). Here are a few examples:
- The USCG has created the “NIOSH Supplement” to collect particular information on victims and survivors during the investigation of vessel losses to better assess the impact of survival equipment and training in these events
- USCG Sector Seattle used CFID data to assess the fatality problem in their area of responsibility
- USCG District 13 (Washington and Oregon) requested CFID data to add to a map on their website describing the fatal events and prevention measures for the fishing industry in their district.
- Based on NIOSH data published in the article Commercial Fishing Fatalities—California, Oregon, and Washington, 2000-2006, MMWR 2008; 57 (16): 426-9, the USCG developed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Washington and Oregon Coasts regarding improved safety procedures for crossing hazardous river bars. These rules were implemented in December 2009.
- During the summer of 2011, USCG Fishing Safety personnel in Alaska requested assistance from NIOSH to understand the hazards in skiff operations that has resulted in partnerships with fishing villages to provide better solutions to prevent drownings.
NIOSH Engineering Solutions have been adopted by the fishing industry.
- NIOSH developed an emergency stop (E-stop) that can be retrofitted to any winch. When engaged, it locks the winch in place limiting the severity of entanglement. The technology was licensed to a company in Seattle, WA to produce a commercially-available retrofit kit. More than a dozen vessels now have an e-stop installed on their winches and winch manufacturers are now making new winches with an e-stop as a standard feature. The development and commercialization of this device was honored with the CDC Director’s Innovation Award in 2008.
- NIOSH developed a low-cost Hatch and Door Monitoring System for commercial fishing boats to aid in the prevention of progressive flooding – a major cause of vessel loss. The system has been sea-tested on two boats in the Bering Sea. Based on positive results and reception from industry, NIOSH is presently in licensing negotiations with a company in Oregon to produce and market the safety monitor.
- To assist boat captains and crews in recognizing degraded vessel stability due to liquid slosh in their tanks and holds, NIOSH has designed an improved Slack-Tank Monitor. The system features enhanced robustness compared to existing systems and increases information available from typical industry-standard monitors. The design can also be adapted to function as a multi-level flood sensor in bilges and watertight compartments. Development and testing are on-going, but industry interest in the commercialization of this system is high.
Individual Fishermen and Fishing companies are changing safety policies based on research performed by the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Program.
- In April 2011 and as a direct result of NIOSH’s personal flotation device (PFD) research and outreach, the Alaska Scallop Association has established a 100% PFD policy while on deck for its member boats. The Association requested six NIOSH DVDs entitled, "Man Overboard: Prevention and Recovery” to help educate its crews as to why it has adopted this PFD policy and why PFDs are so important for survival.
- The F/V Bristol Mariner and F/V Aleutian Mariner also participated in the NIOSH PFD study. As a result of participation in the PFD study, In September 2011, the Mariner fleet of crab fishing vessels (8 vessels in total) has instituted a PFD policy and purchased PFDs for all crewmembers to wear while working on deck.
- The F/V Wizard, from the Deadliest Catch, participated in the NIOSH personal flotation device (PFD) study. The F/V Wizard has instituted a 100% mandatory PFD requirement while on deck. The NIOSH study played a role in the captain’s decision to make PFDs mandatory
Other agencies and organizations also utilize information from the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- NOAA requested data from the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Incident Database to quantify the hazard of deaths in the US fishing industry due to embarking / disembarking a vessel
- NOAA requested data from the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Incident Database to assess the impact of rationalized fisheries on fatality rates in these fisheries.
State Safety and Resource Agencies
- Oregon FACE Program used data from CFID to identify fatalities and non-fatal vessel disasters in the Oregon Dungeness Crab fishery.
- Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Department considered making Dockside Safety Exams mandatory for the Dungeness Crab fleet based on the NIOSH data reported in the MMWR 57 (16): 426-9
- State of Alaska Office of Economic Development requested CFID data to summarize fatalities in salmon fisheries to understand which gear types are more hazardous
Marine Safety Advocates
- The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association uses NIOSH data to identify areas to conduct marine safety classes for the commercial fishing industry in Alaska as well as in the “lower 48”.
- The USCG, US Marine Safety Association and PFD manufacturers are all now organizing promotions highlighting the availability of new and improved PFDs based on NIOSH research revealing fisherman’s acceptance of PFDs.
- Based on the awareness raised by the Hatch and Door Monitor System project, the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners Association developed a training course on proper use and maintenance of watertight doors on fishing vessels.
NIOSH-funded Agriculture Centers
- Northeast Center for Agricultural Health has used NIOSH CFID data to identify project areas to work on to improving safety in the Northeast fishing fleet.
- The Southwest Center for Agricultural Health used NIOSH CFID data to gain more information regarding falls overboard fatalities in the Gulf of Mexico Region. In January 2012, the Southwest Center invited Dr. Lincoln to Louisiana to present regional fatality data in more detail to an advisory panel working on a project to reduce injuries and fatalities among Vietnamese shrimp fishermen along the Gulf Coast.
- The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center used the NIOSH personal flotation device study as a model for their study with Dungeness crab fishermen on the Oregon coast in November 2010.
NIOSH recommends that all fishermen should:
- Take a marine safety class at least once every 5 years
- Find a comfortable PFD and wear it on deck at all times
- Do monthly drills including abandon ship, flooding, fire, and man overboard
- Heed weather forecasts and avoid fishing in severe sea conditions
- Maintain watertight integrity by inspecting and monitoring the hull of the vessel, ensuring that watertight doors and hatches are sealed, and inspecting and testing high water alarms regularly
- Utilize a man overboard alarm system
- Test immersion suits for leaks if operating in cold water
NIOSH recommends that all vessel owners/operators should:
- Create a PFD policy for the crew while working on deck
- Conduct monthly drills including abandon ship, flooding, fire, and man overboard
- Install a man overboard alarm system, and man overboard retrieval devices
- Install emergency stop (e-stop) devices on hydraulic deck machinery to prevent entanglement injuries
- Ensure all crew members have completed marine safety training in the past 5 years
In addition to collecting surveillance data, NIOSH conducts research on particular hazards and evaluates interventions that have been established to improve safety in the industry.
For instance, research in the 1990’s focused on the Alaska region. Alaska's commercial fishermen work in one of the world's harshest environments and experience conditions that have a strong impact on their safety. One-third (346) of all work-related deaths that took place in Alaska during 1990-2008 occurred to fishermen. This results in an annual fatality rate that is 26 times greater than the rate for all U.S. workers (129 and 4 per 100,000 workers per year, respectively). While the work-related fatality rate for commercial fishermen in Alaska is still very high, it has decreased by 42 percent since the early 1990s (see Figure 3). Safety improvements in Alaska occurred as a result of a combination of activities including safety regulations, and fishery-specific interventions focusing on unique hazards of each fishery.
Figure 3: Commercial Fishing Fatalities by Year, Alaska, 1990-2009 (N=353)
Safety regulations in commercial fishing largely began with the passing of the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act (CFIVSA) in 1988. This gave authority to the United States Coast Guard to develop basic lifesaving regulations for commercial fishing vessels, including requirements to carry emergency equipment such as life rafts and immersion suits. NIOSH evaluated the impact of CFIVSA on fatalities in Alaska and found that the safety requirements contributed to 94% of the commercial fishermen surviving vessel sinkings/capsizings from 1997-1999, in comparison to a 77% survival rate in 1991-1993. The survival rate from 1991-1999 steadily improved following the implementation of CFIVSA (see Table 2). For more details on these findings please refer to the published reports, "Preventing commercial fishing deaths in Alaska" and “Improving Safety in the Alaskan Commercial Fishing Industry." NIOSH has also evaluated the effectiveness of emergency equipment and survival training required by US Coast Guard regulations.3 The results show that victims who died were 7 times more likely not to have worn an immersion suit and 15 times more likely not to have used a life raft. This study supports immersion suits and life rafts in saving lives and the need for training and enforcement of the use of this type of equipment.
Fishery management policies have been implemented in Alaska as a way to improve the safety of commercial fishing vessels. NIOSH has evaluated the impact of the halibut/sablefish individual fishing quota program. NIOSH found that the fatality rate declined by 81% and search and rescue missions decreased by 47%. For more details on these findings please refer to the published report "An Evaluation of Quota-based Management Systems in Alaska [PDF - 163 KB]."
Safety policies have also been developed by the U.S. Coast Guard for specific Alaskan fisheries. In 1999 the Preseason Dockside Enforcement Program was established for the Bering Sea Aleutian Island (BSAI) crab fishery to address the hazard of vessel overloading, which can lead to vessel disasters. NIOSH evaluated this program and found that the average annual fatality rate for the BSAI crab fleet decreased by 60% (from a previous fatality rate of 768/100,000 FTE to 305/100,000 FTE). The average annual number of fatalities fell from 8 per year during 1990-1999, to less than 1 per year during 2000-2010 (see Figure 4). For more details please refer to the article "Improving Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Through Collaboration."
Figure 4: Bering Sea / Aleutian Island Crab Fishery Fatalities by Year, 1990-2010, (N=82)
NIOSH continues to conduct research on the safety of commercial fishing vessels. Current projects include studying vessel stability issues, non-fatal injuries, and falls overboard. More details on ongoing NIOSH led research activities and safety programs are described below.
E-stop for Capstan Winches
NIOSH researchers and engineers worked with purse seine fishermen on the design and testing of an emergency stop (e-stop) switch that stops the deck winch if someone becomes entangled. The e-stop system allows the winch to be stopped by a worker, even if the worker is caught in the winch. The system was successfully tested on vessels during the 2005-2007 fishing seasons and is now commercially available as a retrofit-kit from Kolstrand Marine. For more detail refer to the article “Reducing Commercial Fishing Deck Hazards with Engineering Solutions for Winch Design.” Watch The Most Powerful Thing, a NIOSH safety awareness DVD designed to help crew members be more aware of safety hazards on-board purse seining vessels. The DVD highlights interviews with fishermen, and the e-stop solution to prevent injuries that occur as a result of getting entangled around the winch.
Sea-testing a Hatch and Door Monitoring System
Developing a Flood-Rate Monitoring System
Safety Research & Affecting Policy
Improving PFD Use Among Commercial Fisherman
There are many types and styles of PFDs available, with several styles to fit the needs of commercial fishermen, including several lightweight, inflatable PFDs that are worn like suspenders and PFDs that are integrated into raingear. NIOSH has conducted a field study in Alaska with commercial fishermen to test the available PFDs to identify the PFDs with the features that fishermen like and will use. Results of this study will be published in 2011, and NIOSH will partner with the Coast Guard, US Marine Safety Association, and PFD manufacturers to promote the use of PFDs based on the findings. NIOSH is also supporting a similar study with fishermen on the West Coast, in partnership with the University of Washington. NIOSH recently released Man Overboard Prevention & Recovery, a safety awareness DVD designed to help crew members be more aware of how to prevent and respond to man overboard events.
Assessing the Impact of Fisheries Management Policies on Safety
NIOSH completed a study assessing the safety impacts of Fisheries Management Policies in Alaska. This study showed that an individual fishing quota program in selected Alaska fisheries resulted in statistically significant declines in fatalities and search and rescue missions. For more details, please refer to the report "An Evaluation of Quota-based Management Systems in Alaska [PDF - 163 KB]."
NIOSH has coordinated with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations to study these types of policies around the world. The FAO/NIOSH International Study on Fishing Management Regimes and their Impacts on Fishing Safety examined the relationship between safety at sea and fisheries management practices in order to provide practical guidelines for fisheries managers on how to help make commercial fishing safer. This study included both case studies from around the world and expert consultation. For more details, please refer to the Report of the Expert Consultation on Best Practices for Safety at Sea in the Fisheries Sector [PDF - 221 KB].
Impacts on National Policy
NIOSH has influenced the development of national policies that affect commercial fishing safety by providing the necessary data and evidence to show successful intervention efforts and effects on safety. NIOSH provided congressional testimony in April 2007, which led to some of the safety recommendations found in the US Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 [PDF - 478 KB]. This Act contains instructions to the US Coast Guard to prevent vessel loss, falls overboard, and severe injuries in the commercial fishing industry and to improve safety training.
NIOSH also participated in the National Transportation Safety Board Commercial Fishing Safety Form in Oct. 2010. NIOSH served on three expert panels, providing data to help identify practical safety issues in the industry and to identify strategies for preventing injuries and reducing the industry’s unacceptably high injury and fatality rate. Transcripts of the proceedings are available from NTSB.
Impacts on Regional Policy
Based on NIOSH data published in the MMWR article Commercial Fishing Fatalities – California, Oregon, and Washington, 2000-2006, the US Coast Guard developed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Washington and Oregon Coasts regarding improved safety procedures for crossing hazardous bars. These rules were implemented in December of 2009.
International Fishing Safety and Health
NIOSH has organized several International Fishing Industry Safety & Health (IFISH) Conferences to share information and learn about fishing safety programs from experts in other countries. Past conferences have been held in Massachusetts (2000), Alaska (2003), India (2006), and Iceland (2009). These conferences include participants from around the globe, from the South Pacific to the Arctic Circle. For more detail on the topics discussed at the IFISH conferences, please refer to the published Proceedings of the International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference (2002) and Proceedings, Second International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference (2006).
NIOSH continues to work with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations to address international commercial fishing safety issues.
NIOSHTIC-2 search results on Commercial Fishing
NIOSHTIC-2 is a searchable bibliographic database of occupational safety and health publications, documents, grant reports, and journal articles supported in whole or in part by the NIOSH.
PFDs That Work: Overview
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-131 (November 2012)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. This document is a supplement to the gear-specific fact sheets we have also published and has guidance for selecting a PFD that will work for you.
PFDs That Work: Trawlers
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-109 (November 2012)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. This document shows which PFDs were preferred by trawlers.
PFDs That Work: Longliners
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-108 (November 2012)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. This document shows which PFDs were preferred by longliners.
PFDs That Work: Gillnetters
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-107 (November 2012)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. This document shows which PFDs were preferred by gillnetters.
PFDs That Work: Crabbers
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-106 (November 2012)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 182 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2011 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Researchers from the NIOSH Alaska Pacific Office conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from 4 gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern personal flotation devices (PFDs). About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. This document shows which PFDs were preferred by crabbers.
A Story of Impact: NIOSH Research Cited in Recommendations for Improving Commercial Fishing
NIOSH Publication No. 2012-129 (March 2012)
In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) asked NIOSH to participate in the Fishing Vessel Safety Forum held in Washington, DC. The NTSB used NIOSH research presented during the forum to develop recommendations for improving commercial fishing safety. NIOSH research was cited in the recommendations published by the NTSB in November 2011.
Man Overboard Prevention and Recovery
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-126d (February 2011)
This is a safety awareness video designed to help crew members be more aware of how to prevent and respond to man overboard events. It features interviews with fishermen about experiences with falling overboard, and explains how to successfully recover a person in the water. The video also highlights different equipment that is available such as man overboard alarms and various rescue devices.
Fatal Occupational Injuries in the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry: Risk Factors and Recommendations:
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-103 (November 2010)
West Coast Region
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-104 (November 2010)
East Coast Region
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-105 (November 2010)
Gulf of Mexico Region
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-106 (November 2010)
Selected Peer Reviewed Scientific Articles
(for a complete list please refer to NIOSHTIC-2 search results on Commercial Fishing)
Fatal and Nonfatal Injuries Involving Fishing Vessel Winches — Southern Shrimp Fleet, United States, 2000–2011
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: 2013 / 62(09): 157-160
Nearly 10% of fatalities in the U.S. commercial fishing industry are caused by injuries sustained onboard vessels, such as entanglement in deck winches and other machinery. This type of fatality occurred most often in the Gulf of Mexico. To assess the impact of fatal and nonfatal injuries involving deck winches in the Southern shrimp fleet during 2000–2011, CDC analyzed data from its Commercial Fishing Incident Database and the U.S. Coast Guard. This report summarizes the results of that analysis.
Commercial Fishing Deaths – United States, 2000-2009
Journal of the American Medical Association: 2010 / 304(13): 1437-1439
This article describes the NIOSH commercial fishing surveillance system and methods used to summarize commercial fishing fatality statistics from 2000-2009. Commercial fishing fatalities are examined by location, fishery type, and cause.
Commercial Fishing Deaths – United States, 2000-2009
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: 2010 / 59(27): 842-845
This article describes the NIOSH commercial fishing surveillance system and methods used to summarize commercial fishing fatality statistics from 2000-2009. Commercial fishing fatalities are examined by location, fishery type, and cause.
Occupational Fatalities in the United States Commercial Fishing Industry, 2000-2009
Journal of Agromedicine: 2010 / 15(4): 343-350
This article describes the distribution and causes of occupational fishing fatalities in the US from 2000-2009. The highest risk fisheries in the US are identified, and recommendations for prevention measures are discussed.
A persistent high human cost of protein: commercial fishing and aquaculture
Journal of Agromedicine: 2010 / 15(4): 335-336
This editorial introduces and summarizes the special issue of the Journal of Agromedicine, which presents a collection of articles on the various hazards of commercial fishing in the United States, as well as articles on the rapidly expanding seafood farming industry.
Improving commercial fishing vessel safety through collaboration [PDF - 793 KB]
The Coast Guard Journal of Safety and Security at Sea, Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council: 2009 / 66(1): 38-44
This article describes the impact of safety legislation and regulations on the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island crab fleet. The development of the voluntary dockside exam program, the At the Dock Stability and Safety Compliance Check program, and BSAI crab rationalization program are described, along with impact on vessel loss and fatalities.
An Evaluation of Quota-based Management Systems in Alaska [PDF - 163 KB]
North Pacific Research Board Project 533 Final Report: November 2007
This study systematically assesses whether safety improvements occurred after quota-based management systems were established in Alaskan halibut/sablefish and Pollock fisheries. Results show a statistically significant decline in rates of fatalities and search and rescue missions for halibut/sablefish fishermen after implementation of Individual Fishing Quotas, as well as a decline in non-fatal injury rates.
NIOSH testimony on commercial fishing vessel safety by J. Lincoln
Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, United States House of Representatives. 110th Congress 1st Session (April 25, 2007).
All hands on deck: improving deck safety on commercial fishing vessels
The Coast Guard Journal of Safety and Security at Sea, Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council: March 2007 / 64(1):29-31
This article describes the importance of deck safety for commercial fishermen, and the development of a NIOSH led safety solution to address this hazard.
Deck Safety for Crab Fishermen
Jensen Maritime Consultants, Inc.: 2002-2003
This booklet was written by Jensen Maritime Consultants with input and funding from NIOSH researchers at the Alaska Pacific Regional Office. The goal of this booklet is to share ideas for safety improvements that fishermen can make to reduce injuries on their boats, increase productivity, and reduce downtime.
Jensen Maritime Consultants, Inc.: No Date
This brochure was produced by Jensen Maritime Consultants with support from NIOSH. The goal of this brochure is to encourage commercial fishermen to protect themselves using a lockout/tagout program, a program that ensure that hazardous machinery and energy is properly shut off before maintenance or service work is conducted.
Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA)
AMSEA provides effective hands-on marine safety courses to the commercial fishing industry in Alaska and in other regions of the United States. They are a NIOSH grantee and long-time partner of NIOSH. NIOSH continues to share information about statistics and interventions for hazards in the fishing fleet as serves as a non-voting member of the Board of Directors. NIOSH has also evaluated the impact of the training AMSEA provides on the chances of a fisherman surviving an emergency at sea. NIOSH provides quarterly newsletter articles to AMSEA and serves with them on many fishing safety committees. Most recently, NIOSH contracted with AMSEA to produce the Man Overboard Prevention & Recovery DVD which was released in 2011.
Alaska Sea Grant
The Alaska Sea Grant College Program supports coastal communities through research, education, and extension, and is funded by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, NOAA, and support from partners such as NIOSH. NIOSH and the Alaska Sea Grant recently collaborated to produce the Man Overboard Prevention & Recovery DVD which was released in 2011.
American Seafoods is one of the largest seafood harvesters in the Bering Sea. NIOSH and American Seafoods are collaborating on developing a Hatch and Door Monitoring System engineered by NIOSH. The corporation has generously provided both boats and personnel during the sea-trials and evaluation processes. Multiple sensor technologies have been tried and evaluated using their catcher processor vessels, allowing refinements to be made to the Hatch and Door Monitoring System. Use of the monitoring system on boats can reduce deaths, injuries, and vessel loss due to progressive flooding.
B&N Fisheries Company
B&N Fisheries Company is a privately owned company headquartered in Seattle Washington. NIOSH is currently partnering with them to sea-test prototype slack tank monitors installed on the trawler F/V Epic Explorer. The traditional method of monitoring for slack levels has been the use of an array of float-switches stacked at various heights within the tank. As the tank fills or drains, the corresponding mechanical float-switch opens or closes an electrical connection indicating the content level. The problem addressed by NIOSH engineers, is that these mechanical float switches can become easily fouled and stick in either a closed or opened position. This fouling of moving parts becomes a safety issue when erroneous “full” or “empty” tank levels are reported when there is actually a slack-tank condition. The installation of the NIOSH prototype system was finished in early January 2011. Testing and refinements of the monitor will continue to be made throughout the fishing season.
Jensen Maritime is a naval architect and marine engineering firm that has partnered with NIOSH to develop a variety of products for the commercial fishing industry to improve deck safety. These products include a booklet focusing on Crab Deck Safety, and a brochure with information regarding Lockout Tagout procedures. Both documents are available at: Jensen Maritime News and Media. Most recently, NIOSH has partnered with Jensen Maritime to create a safety checklist for owner/operators of purse seine vessels to use to check their deck rigging and gear prior to the opening of the season. This is being developed at the request of the Cordova Fishermen’s United Association.
National Marine Fisheries Service
NMFS is dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems. NIOSH was recently invited to partner with NMFS to provide guidance on analytical methods to evaluate safety in the fisheries management process. Recent work by NIOSH and the US Coast Guard has shown that the fishery management process can more explicitly address safety at sea by analyzing fatalities and calculating fatality rates for the fishery and understanding the overall hazards associated with fisheries.
Natural Resources Consultants Inc.
NRC are a Seattle based consultancy that specializes in assessment, conservation, utilization, valuation, enhancement, and development of marine and inland aquatic resources. NIOSH has contracted with NRC to collect workforce estimates for fisheries around the U.S., so that NIOSH is able to calculate rates of occupational injuries and fatalities for each fishery.
National Transportation Safety Board - Marine
In October 2010, NIOSH participated in the NTSB commercial fishing vessel safety forum by serving on three expert panels. The goals of the forum were (1) to identify safety issues in the industry from the perspective of both industry and government, and (2) to identify strategies for preventing accidents and reducing the commercial fishing industry's unacceptably high injury and fatality rate. Vessel standards, human performance issues and the regulatory environment were also discussed. NIOSH continues to work with the NTSB on identifying ways to improve safety in the commercial fishing industry. Information on the forum can be found at NTSB Public Forum on Fishing Vessel Safety.
NIOSH Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing (AgFF) Centers
The 7 NIOSH AgFF Centers are mandated to undertake research, develop prevention and education programs and provide consultation to constituents across the US in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting.
The Northeast Center for Agricultural Health
The Northeast Center for Agricultural Health has used NIOSH CFID data to identify project areas to work on to improve safety in the Northeast fishing fleet.
The Southwest Center for Agricultural Health
The Southwest Center for Agricultural Health used NIOSH CFID data to gain more information regarding falls overboard fatalities in the Gulf of Mexico Region.
PNASH partnered with NIOSH to conduct a safety survey among Dungeness crab fishermen in Oregon to identify ways to improve safety among this high risk fleet.
North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (NPFVOA)
NPFVOA provides hands-on marine safety training to commercial fishermen in the Pacific Northwest. NPFVOA continues to be a partner with NIOSH by translating our research findings to industry and by reviewing our proposed research projects. We provide quarterly newsletter articles to NPFVOA and serve with them on many fishing safety committees.
Trident Seafoods was founded in 1973 as a privately owned corporation. The corporation operates offshore fish processors and shore-side plants throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Their boats include multiple factory trawlers, processors, trawl catchers, crab catchers, freighters, and tenders. NIOSH has been collaborating with Trident Seafoods for many years. The company has provided generous access and use of their vessels for sea-testing prototype safety devices designed by NIOSH engineers including the Hatch/Door Monitoring system. They have also provided critiques of these interventions that have been valuable in refining the designs. Trident Seafoods has one representative on the NORA AgFF Sector Council.
United States Coast Guard (USCG)
NIOSH has been collaborating with the USCG since 1991 in reducing deaths and injuries in the commercial fishing industry. Collaboration originally started with USCG District 17 in Alaska and since the late 1990’s has included other USCG partners throughout the United States. NIOSH and the USCG have an MOU agreement to share data to identify causes of deaths in the commercial fishing industry. We have collaborated on many interventions to help prevent deaths. Most recent activities include a partnership with the D13 (Washington and Oregon) district on conducting a marine safety survey with Dungeness crab fishermen. NIOSH is also working with the USCG on Fishery Management projects to promote safety in all management decisions.
1US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012). Injuries, illnesses, and fatalities: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) –current and revised data. Washington, DC.
2National Marine Fisheries Service (2010). Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2008.
3Lincoln, Jennifer (2006). Fresh Seafood at a Price: Factors Associated with Surviving Commercial Fishing Vessel Sinkings in Alaska. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). John Hopkins University, Baltimore.
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