Commercial fishing is the most dangerous industry for workers, and the riskiest job of all is that of the ground fisherman. All types of workers involved in commercial fishing are protected by maritime laws, which guarantee compensation for injuries or fatalities on the job.
What Is Ground Fishing?
Ground fishermen harvest animals that live on the bottom of rivers, lakes, and the ocean, making fishing even more challenging. Special equipment must be used to catch and collect rockfish, flatfish, skates, cod, halibut, flounder, scallops, and other types of groundfish.
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Working with these commercial fishermen are the lumpers who unload and transport the catches to storage.
Ground Fishing Injury Statistics
Year after year, commercial fishing is considered the most dangerous job in the country. This is based solely on the statistics that count the number of injuries and deaths on the job.
Many believe that crab fishing in Alaska is the most dangerous of all these fishing jobs, but the real answer is ground fishing. Ground fishermen working on the Atlantic coast of New England see the most deaths and injuries of any part of the industry.
The statistics come from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which finds that the industry saw 600 deaths per 100,000 workers from 2000 to 2009.
The rate was slightly lower for scallop fishermen, at 425 deaths per 100,000 workers for the same period. The rate for Alaskan crab fishermen was 260 during that decade.
What Makes Ground Fishing So Dangerous?
Many factors of the job of ground fishing make it hazardous, but two of the most significant are bad weather and dangerous equipment.
Weather and Ocean Conditions
As with any type of commercial fisherman, these workers do their jobs in rough conditions. They face dangerous weather, rough waters, and long, tiring work days.
Weather, big swells, and simple fatigue can combine to cause accidents, injuries, and deaths. The most common type of ground fishing accident is capsizing or sinking fishing boats.
Fishing boats are not always stable in the kinds of rough ocean waters that they face. Ships built before 1991 or less than 79 feet long must not be inspected for stability.
Unfortunately, it is the boats that are smaller than 79 feet that sink most often and should be inspected. Only ten percent of the fishing fleet in Maine, for instance, is checked for stability or safety gear.
Another danger specific to the job of ground fishing is the equipment used. A common cause of death in the industry is falling overboard, often caused by getting tangled in the fishing lines.
A fall overboard in the ocean is perilous, and workers who fall may die from drowning or hypothermia from the cold waters.
Safety and training may also be significant contributors to the dangers of the job. Many workers in the industry have been improperly trained, or not trained at all, in using safety gear and safety procedures. Many boats lack appropriate safety equipment.
The Most Common Ground Fishing Accidents
According to statistics gathered by NIOSH, the most common accidents in commercial fishing, specifically ground fishing, are:
- Vessel disasters
- Onboard injuries
- Falls overboard
Vessel disasters accounted for over half of fishing deaths, including capsizing, collisions, and sinking. Safety training for such incidents and proper safety equipment like working life vests and life rafts could prevent fatalities.
Falls overboard caused the industry’s second-largest number of deaths. Again, safety precautions could prevent many of the resulting deaths. None of the workers who fell overboard and drowned were wearing personal flotation devices.
Furthermore, more than half of these falls occurred without witnesses. A man overboard alarm would prevent these situations.
Finally, deck injuries were the third leading cause of fatalities aboard fishing boats. Wet, slippery decks and pitching boats in rough weather cause slip and fall. Lines and cables used in winches and haulers also cause accidents, falls overboard, and amputations. These accidents caused more non-fatal injuries than any other type of incident.
Fishermen working aboard boats face the greatest dangers in the commercial ground fishing industries. Support staff also work in dangerous conditions.
Lumpers run the catch from fishing boats to storage areas. They handle large and heavy cargo loads, which can lead to accidents with falling loads, back injuries, and repetitive stress injuries.
Lumpers also risk falling into the water and drowning or suffering hypothermia, getting snagged in fishing lines, being hit by moving equipment or being trapped between a boat and the dock. Any of these accidents can cause severe injuries and may even be fatal.
Legal Help and Compensation for Ground Fishermen and Lumpers
If you work as a ground fisherman, you may qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. This means you can get compensation for injuries in the case of negligence.
Even if negligence can’t be proven, you are still entitled to some form of compensation for medical expenses and lost wages.
If you work as a lumper, you may not qualify as a seaman, but you may be eligible for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This federal workers’ compensation program guarantees you will receive the money you deserve if you are injured on the job.
If you lost a loved one to this dangerous industry and depended on that worker, you are also covered by federal maritime laws. Whether you or a loved one has suffered on the job in the fishing industry, you can benefit from the guidance and experience of a professional maritime lawyer to help you determine your rights and make your claims.