Seafood Processing

Seafood processing worker transporting fresh mackerel while the production line prepares fish in the background.

Seafood processing worker transporting fresh mackerel while the production line prepares fish in the background. Image credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus

Seafood processing involves preparing seafood for delivery to the consumer after it is harvested, including tasks such as eviscerating, freezing, canning, and packaging the product. Seafood processing brings the natural resource to market and adds value to the product. In 2017, the estimated value of seafood processed in the U.S. was $11.9 billion, with edible products valued at $11 billion and industrial products at $903.1 million. 1 In the U.S. during 2017, there was an annual average of 816 establishments and 35,579 workers in the seafood processing industry, with the Pacific region employing the most workers. 2 In many establishments, the number of workers fluctuates seasonally, with higher employment during peak seafood harvesting seasons. During peak seasons, workers spend 12-16 hour days on the processing line. Entry-level positions have few requirements for education or experience and pay low hourly wages. 3-7

During 2011-2017, seafood processing workers had the highest injury/illness rate of any U.S. maritime workers at 6,670 injuries/illnesses per 100,000 workers.8 Occupational hazards in this industry include exposures to biological aerosols containing allergens, microorganisms, and toxins; bacteria and parasites; excessive noise levels; low temperatures; poor workplace organization; poor ergonomics; and contact with machinery and equipment.9-19

Recent studies in the U.S. Pacific region have shown significantly higher rates of accepted workers’ compensation claims in this industry compared to others. In Washington, a study of workers’ compensation claims during 2002–2010 demonstrated a rate of 31.1 claims per 1,000 FTEs in the seafood processing industry.20 A study of Oregon workers’ compensation disabling claims in the seafood processing industry during 2007-2013 identified an average annual rate of 24 disabling claims per 1,000 workers.21 A study of Alaska workers’ compensation claims for nonfatal injury/illness in the seafood processing industry during 2014-2015 found an average annual claim rate of 63 claims per 1,000 workers.22

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Page last reviewed: May 8, 2020, 12:00 AM