Commercial fishing is a lucrative, yet dangerous job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects information about jobs and lists commercial fishing as the most dangerous and most fatal of all jobs. From rough weather conditions to falling overboard in rough waters to being struck by heavy equipment, there are many ways in which a job on a fishing boat can kill or injure workers.
Seiner fishing is one of the most common types of fishing and seiner boats are often used in the commercial fishing industry in the U.S. A seiner is a boat that uses a dragnet, known as a seine, to collect fish and haul them on board. Seiners are big boats with a lot of equipment and many hazards. If you work aboard a seiner fishing boat and you have been injured, whether due to negligence or not, you have rights that allow you to seek compensation, even if your employer or employer’s insurance company has tried to deny you that compensation.
The Risks of Seiner Fishing
What distinguishes a seiner boat from other commercial fishing boats is the equipment used to catch the fish. A seine is a large dragnet that is weighted at the bottom. This allows the net to sink down in the water at one end, while at the other, floats keep it near the surface. The result is a vertical net in the water that can trap fish as they swim toward it. A purse seine makes a complete circle in the water and is gathered together at the top, like a purse, to catch the fish.
There are many reasons why commercial fishing in a seiner boat is so dangerous and risky. The statistics are clear: commercial fishing, on seiners and other types of boats, cause more injuries and fatalities than any other type of industry. A lot of seiners work off the coast of Alaska, in the Pacific Ocean, and in the Bering Sea where weather can be brutal and waters dangerous. Hypothermia, fatigue, and falls overboard due to rough waters and bad weather account for many accidents and fatalities aboard seiners in these regions.
Working aboard a seiner means working long, hard hours, being exposed to freezing weather, and risking accidents and injuries. Fatigue is common, especially if a worker has not been allowed the breaks to which he is entitled. Not having the right protective gear for cold, wet weather can also be problematic. Workers may experience hypothermia or frostbite from not having the right clothing or from not being able to take breaks.
In addition to the weather and the water as risks, the equipment used aboard seiners is big, heavy, and dangerous. For instance, the large winch used to operate the seine can cause accidents and can even kill workers if it malfunctions. Workers who are not properly trained or equipment not maintained well, increase the risk that these accidents may happen and result in an injury, or in the worst case scenario, a death. Fatigue is also a risk factor for these kinds of accidents.
Examples of Seiner Accidents
Accidents in the commercial fishing industry don’t always make the news, but they are common. In many of these accidents, some kind of negligence could be blamed and the injuries could have been prevented with proper precautions. When negligence causes a seiner worker to be injured or killed, the person liable could face criminal charges and the injured party becomes entitled to monetary damages.
One such tragic accident that could have been prevented occurred in the waters off Kodiak, Alaska. A seiner there capsized resulting in the deaths of four workers aboard the boat. An investigation determined that the boat was not appropriate for the rough waters in which it was working, which is considered negligence. The boat should never have been out on those waters and someone made a bad judgment call in sending it out. Four workers paid for that mistake with their lives.
Another accident aboard a seiner occurred in New Zealand in 2005. The seiner boat was using a purse seine to fish when part of the net caught on a drum block. The net pulled back and a worker’s finger was caught in it. The net severed it and the worker lost his finger. The supervisors in charge that day were held liable because they never reported the injury, although the worker was provided with adequate medical care following the incident.
Typical Seiner Injuries
There are many ways in which a worker aboard a seiner could be injured. According to research statistics, most injuries aboard seiners in Alaskan waters that are serious enough to require hospitalization are caused by deck machinery. A major issue with deck machinery on seiners is the possibility of getting tangled in the net or winch line. On too many boats, the controls for the machinery are out of reach of the danger zone. A worker may get tangled and be unable to stop the equipment from moving. This can be very dangerous.
Deck machinery can cause accidents when workers are not trained in using it properly, when safety training has not been adequate, or when machinery has not been maintained and it malfunctions. Machinery and other equipment or cargo on deck can also cause accidents as strip hazards or in knocking crew members overboard.
Weather and water are the other main ways in which seiner workers get injured. Working in freezing conditions means that workers are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. This is especially true when workers are not given the proper protective equipment or the time to go below deck for breaks and to warm up. Without breaks, workers are also susceptible to fatigue, which can cause accidents and injuries.
Seiner Injuries and Negligence
Most of the accidents, injuries, and fatalities on seiner boats are tragically preventable. Captains and ship owners are often found negligent in these cases. Common types of negligence include not providing adequate training for workers, not keeping equipment and machinery running and functioning correctly, not providing safety gear, and not providing adequate break time for workers.
Legal Rights for Injured Seiner Workers
If you work aboard a seiner boat, you are taking a risk for your career. If you are injured on the job, you have rights to compensation. In the event that your employer denies you compensation you can seek legal aid to get you the money you deserve. Whether the accident was caused by negligence or not, there are legal avenues to getting money to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you lost a loved one to a seiner accident, you also have rights to compensation. Get the guidance of an experienced maritime lawyer to help you decide what to do about the compensation you are owed.