Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous industries in which to work. It combines the inherently risky job of working at sea with the dangerous equipment needed for large-scale fishing, not to mention the rough weather and waters where fish are often caught. While much commercial fishing is done by independent workers and vessels, there are some large fishing companies with fleets of vessels and many employees.
One of these is American Seafoods Group, one of the largest fishing companies in North America and the world. It is headquartered in Seattle, Washington and has a fleet of boats on which workers haul in and process seafood. Accidents that have happened aboard these vessels have left many workers injured. Employers like American Seafoods have a responsibility to their works to keep them safe. When they fail, those workers have a right to seek compensation.
About American Seafoods
American Seafoods Group is made up of two divisions: American Seafoods Company fishes, harvests, processes, and distributes fish and other types of seafood in the U.S. The fleet includes six large catcher and processor vessels. The second company is American Marine Ingredients, which is newer and uses the catch from American Seafoods Company to develop and distribute unique seafood products.
American Seafoods Company is the older part of the group and the one devoted to fishing. The company largely catches and processes seafood in the Pacific Northwest and in Alaskan waters. Common types of catches for the company include Alaska Pollock, sole, yellowfin, Pacific hake, and Pacific cod. American Seafoods employs over 1,000 people, many of whom work on one of the six state-of-the-art fishing vessels.
American Seafoods was founded in Seattle in 1988. For such a young maritime company, it has worked hard to become a giant in the industry of commercial fishing. Growth has come from the opening of foreign sales offices, the acquisition of bigger and better fishing vessels, and the acquisition of other, smaller fishing companies. These acquisitions have occurred frequently over the years and have included the purchase of Southern Pride Catfish Company, Highland Light, and Pacific Longline Company
The American Seafoods fleet includes six catcher processors. These are large ships that both catch fish and allow workers to process the fish on board. One of the earliest members of the fleet is the American Dynasty, a stern trawler with a two level processing factory. It harvests Alaska pollock, Pacific hake, and sole.
Other vessels include the American Triumph, with the company’s largest frozen hold capacity, the Northern Eagle, which was rebuilt in 2012, the Northern Jaeger, the Ocean Rover, and the Katie Ann. This last ship was built in 1969 and at the time was one of the first U.S. fishing vessels to include fishing and processing capabilities.
Accidents in the commercial fishing industry are all too common. This is a dangerous workplace for many reasons. Many of the vessels go out in winter when water and weather are at their worst. They face harsh weather, hypothermia, frostbite, the risk of falling over board, and of course the risk of being injured by trawling and processing equipment.
Sometimes the injury to a worker is really an illness and reflects the lack of medical care these fishermen have when on the job working long and grueling hours. Such was the case in the death of an American Seafoods worker, Cuong Dang. He lost his life on the Northern Eagle after three weeks out at sea. He died from complications related to diabetes, a chronic but treatable medical condition. The tragedy reflected how little medical care fishermen get on these jobs for weeks or months at sea.
More often, workers in the fishing industry suffer accidents that cause physical injuries. Sometimes it is simply the repetitive nature of the work that causes harm. This was the case for an American Seafoods worker who hurt his shoulder after working on the American Dynasty. His shoulder was hurt after transferrin fish from a conveyer belt to a processing machine. The repetitive motion involved caused the injury.
In 1999 another American Seafoods worker was injured on one of the fleet vessels. This man worked on the Ocean Rover when a deck rail collapsed and he fell from the deck. The vessel was in port so he fell twenty feet onto the dock below. The man was severely injured in the fall and brought a suit against the company to seek compensation.
Another worker injured both of his knees in two separate incidents aboard American Seafoods vessels and contended that the company was negligent. In the first instance he was making repairs to a conveyor belt. Instead of lying down under the machine, he squatted, lost his balance and fell and injured one knee. He injured the other knee in a similar instance. The worker claimed that he was pushed to make the repairs quickly and that was why he fell and hurt himself.
Worker Rights and Maritime Law
These examples of workers with a maritime company like American Seafoods getting injured or even killed on the job are not that uncommon, especially in fishing. These workers put themselves in harm’s way every day on the job. Even experienced and well-trained workers in this industry can be injured because of equipment failure, human error, or for other reasons. Employers like American Seafoods are supposed to provide vessels that are seaworthy, equipment that works well, and training among other things to keep workers safe. When they don’t, they may be negligent and may have to pay workers to compensate them for their injuries.
Most workers aboard fishing vessels are covered under the Jones Act, one of many maritime laws designed to protect maritime workers and provide a way to get monetary damages after a workplace accident. The Jones Act specifically covers seamen, those workers who spend a significant portion of work time on seafaring vessels. The law allows these workers to bring a lawsuit against an employer and get compensation if the employer can be found to be even partially negligent in an accident and injury.
The compensation that maritime laws allow for include money for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and lost future earnings if the injury is bad enough to affect the future ability to work. If you were hurt on the job working for a company like American Seafoods, you can take advantage of maritime laws to get the money you need to get your life back together. All it takes is the advice of a professional maritime lawyer to help you decide what steps to take next.