Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies: Seafood Processing

Seafood Processing

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

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.

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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  2. BLS [2018]. Table: NAICS 3117 Seafood product preparation and packaging, all counties, 2017 Annual Averages, all establishment sizes. In Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, icon.
  3. Koski K [2018]. The highest injury rates: Among Alaskan industries, seafood processing tops the list. Alaska Economic Trends 38(11):8–10.
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  8. BLS [2019]. Table 2. Numbers of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by industry and case types, 2011 – 2017. In Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, icon.
  9. Ortega HG, Daroowalla F, Petsonk EL, et al. [2001]. Respiratory symptoms among crab processing workers in Alaska: epidemiological and environmental assessment. Am J Ind Med 39:598–607.
  10. Beaudet N, Brodkin CA, Stover B, Daroowalla F, Flack J, Doherty D [2002]. Crab allergen exposures aboard five crab-processing vessels. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J 63:605–609.
  11. Jeebhay MF, Robins TG, Lopata AL [2004]. World at work: fish processing workers. Occup Environ Med 61(5):471–474.
  12. Kim JY, Kim JI, Son JE, Yun SK [2004]. Prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in meat and fish processing plants. J Occup Health 46:230–4.
  13. Neitzel RL, Berna BE, Seixas NS [2006]. Noise exposures aboard catcher/processor fishing vessels. Am J Ind Med 49:624–633.
  14. Aasmoe L, Bang B, Egeness C, Løchen ML [2008]. Musculoskeletal symptoms among seafood production workers in North Norway. Occ Med 58:64–70.
  15. Nag A, Vyas H, Shah P, Nag PK [2012]. Risk factors and musculoskeletal disorders among women workers performing fish processing. Am J Ind Med 55: 833–43.
  16. Kuruganti U, Albert WJ [2013]. Ergonomic risks in fish processing workers in Atlantic Canada. Occup Ergon 11: 11–19.
  17. Syron LN, Lucas DL, Bovbjerg VE, Case S, Kincl L. [2018]. Occupational traumatic injuries among offshore seafood processors in Alaska, 2010–2015. J Safety Res 66:169–178.
  18. Syron LN, Bovbjerg VE, Mendez-Luck CA, Kincl L [2019]. Safety and health programs in Alaska’s seafood processing industry: Interviews with safety and health managers. J Agromedicine, DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2019.1639578
  19. Bonlokke JH, Berit B, Aasmoe L, Abdel Rahman A, Syron LN, Andersson E, Dahlman-Hoglund A, Lopata A, Jeebhay M. [2019]. Exposures and health effects of bioaerosols in seafood processing workers – a position statement. J Agromedicine, DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2019.1646685
  20. Anderson N, Bonauto D, Adams D [2013]. Prioritizing industries for occupational injury and illness prevention and research, Washington State workers’ compensation claims data, 2002–2010. Olympia, WA: Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Technical Report, 64-1-2013, iconexternal icon.
  21. Syron L, Kincl L, Yang L, Cain D, Smit E [2017]. Analysis of workers’ compensation disabling claims in Oregon’s seafood preparation and packaging industry, 2007 to 2013. Am J Ind Med 60(5):484–493.
  22. Syron L, Lucas D, Bovbjerg V, Kincl L. [2019]. Injury and illness among onshore workers in Alaska’s seafood processing industry: Analysis of workers’ compensation claims, 2014–2015. Am J Ind Med 62(3):253-264.
Page last reviewed: January 9, 2020, 12:00 AM