Maritime Law Overview
Seaman's Information Regarding Maritime Injury
While on the water, people find themselves in situations that could end in accident or injury.
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Commercial fishing is a dangerous job. In 2006, commercial fishing was the most dangerous job in the United States. Commercial fishermen had an annual fatality rate that was 36 times higher than the average American worker. Commercial fishermen saw 142 of their colleagues die for every 100,000 working in the field compared to just 4 fatalities per 100,000 American workers generally.
Why Do Commercial Fishing Fatalities Occur?
In the decade between 1994 and 2004, 641 commercial fishermen died while working in the United States. In each year of that decade, more than 100 commercial fishing vessels were lost at sea and those vessels accounted for more than one half of the total fatalities.
The next leading cause of death among commercial fishermen was fishermen falling overboard into the water and not being able to be rescued. In the ten years between 1994 and 2004, 184 commercial fishermen, about 29% of the total, died in this manner.
The rest of the fatalities occurred for various reasons. Each of the following reasons were attributed to the death of commercial fishermen: deck injuries, diving, fires, explosions and other miscellaneous causes. No one of those causes accounted for more than 8 percent of the total number of commercial fishermen fatalities.
The reasons described above also contribute to many occupational injuries among commercial fishermen each year.
The Case of the Crab Fisheries
Crab boats are extremely dangerous places to work. While commercial fishermen have the highest overall rate of fatalities among American workers, fishermen on crab boats are at even higher risk. Their rate of fatalities is more than 300 per 100,000 workers.
Can Commercial Fishermen be Protected from Fatalities and Injuries?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is currently researching different methods to make commercial fishing safer in this country. The measures currently being researched include: improving surveillance for commercial fishermen, creating an emergency switch to stop the deck winch if someone becomes entangled, developing a hatch monitoring system, improving personal flotation device use among commercial fishermen, improving access to vessel stability data and assessing the impact of Fisheries Management Policies on the safety of commercial fishermen.
What Should a Commercial Fishermen or His Family Do if There is an Injury or Fatality?
A commercial fisherman who is injured or the family of a commercial fisherman who died in a commercial fishing accident may be entitled to damages pursuant to federal maritime law. The Jones Act allows commercial fishermen who are injured to recover from their employers if their employers were negligent or if the vessel was unseaworthy. The Death on the High Seas Act allows the family of a commercial fisherman to recover damages if the commercial fisherman was killed as a result of the employer's negligence of because the vessel was unseaworthy.
Commercial fishermen are vital to the fish industry of the United States. However, they also have the most dangerous job in the United States. Therefore, it is important for commercial fishermen and prospective commercial fishermen to understand the risks associated with the job.