Fishing is the one of the deadliest occupations in the world behind being a soldier at war, with a death rate in the US alone of 116 In 100,000 workers. Not only do fishermen face extreme and unpredictable weather, massive swells, and the dangers of heavy machinery, but they are often subject to long hours of physically exhausting work.
And those who work in the world’s unregulated or illegal fishing fleets are subject to even harsher conditions.
Illegal fishing prevails around the world, especially in areas of the high seas. Some fishermen don’t see land for months or even years at a time and are given minimal resources to survive. These people face abuses at sea, and some have even been forced into the labor through human trafficking. For example, the Thai food industry is almost entirely sustained by youth and migratory labor.
Commercial fishing is clearly not for the faint of heart.
Many of us have been exposed to the world of commercial fishing through shows like’Deadliest Catch’ and movies like ‘The Perfect Storm’. All of which demonstrate the dangers of drowning, and bodily harm from fishing gears that come as a daily part of the job.
It’s not uncommon to meet a fisherman with at least one missing finger, and an interesting story to go with it.
In my time working on fishing boats, I’ve managed to come across a man who goes by the name of ‘Dead Frank’. According to the stories, Dead Frank fell overboard after becoming caught in a trawl net as it was being set down to the ocean floor. After nearly an hour underwater, the crew managed to pull him back up. Luckily for Dead Frank, if your heart stops beating in water that’s cold enough, your body can be revived.
At least that’s how the story goes.
How Can We Make Fishing Safer
There’s no doubt that regulations and transparency in the fishing industry make vessels safer.
For example, in the United States, commercial fisheries are now required to work with NOAA’s fisheries observer programs and take scientists onboard their vessels to collect data on the fish and by-catch being caught.
This is great not only for determining the impacts fishing is having on marine life, but it’s also a step forward for improving fishermen’s lives. These programs require fishing vessels to stay up to date with their safety gear such as survival suits, life rafts, and EPIRBs.
One of the most dangerous aspects to fishing is the pressure of time. Some fisheries around the world are managed in a way that is time sensitive: fishers are only allowed to catch fish during specific weeks/months of the year. This leads to an unhealthy rush to catch as many fish as possible in the short amount of time, and vessels will be forced to venture into storms and rough seas that may threaten their lives. Captains and crews operate on fumes, increasing the chances that something might go wrong.
By using a catch-share management strategy to fishing, management can relieve fishermen of some of these time pressures. With an annual allotment in place for how much a boat can catch, fishermen can fish whenever they want. In the U.S. and British Columbia, fisheries that switched to catch shares experienced, on average, a near-tripling in safety.
Improving governance and traceability in small-scale fisheries around the world, especially in Asia and Africa, is critical to improving the human rights of fishermen. Currently 25 million fishermen around the world have little or no legal protection. To improve the well-beings of these people, illegal fisheries need to be brought out of the dark.
Not only is proper management a huge step forward for the protection of our world’s oceans, but it also directly benefits the people who work in the most dangerous industry on our planet.
Photo: Lucas Jans/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)