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2006 Report Concerned About Pacific Coast Fisheries Safety

A 2006 report regarding commercial fishing fatalities has pinpointed Pacific Coast fisheries as one of the most dangerous places to work in the country. This report, written by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reveals an average annual fatality rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 fishermen, more than 28 times the national fatality rate of 4 deaths per 100,000 average U.S. workers. The average annual fatality rate for Washington, Oregon and California, however, was more than double the annual rate of fishermen deaths at 238 deaths per 100,000 fishermen. The leading cause of these fatalities is weather conditions, including large waves and subsequent flooding. None of persons whose deaths resulted from vessel loss were able to enter a functioning life raft, either because of the inadequate size, location or condition of the life raft.
While commercial fishing has long been associated with high fatality rates, this report is the first to identify extremely dangerous Pacific Coast fisheries outside of Alaska, whose fatality rate has dropped significantly to 107 deaths per 100,000 fishermen. While Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fishery has been described as the most dangerous fishery on the Pacific Coast, data from this report indicates that the Northwest Dungeness crab fleet had a greater number of fatalities and a higher fatality rate during 2000-2006. Many attribute such a dramatic change in the fatality rate to the significant safety improvements made in Alaskan fisheries during the 1990s. These safety improvements included requirements for emergency gear, development of hands-on safety training, and tailoring safety interventions addressing specific hazards for particular fishing fleets.
Such impressive results have many seeking similar requirements on all Pacific Coast fisheries. The CDC is particularly concerned regarding the lack of use of life rafts and immersion suits, likely contributed to a survival rate of 94% among commercial fisherman aboard Alaskan vessels that capsized during 1997-1999. The CDC determined that, during 1992-2004, survivors of vessel sinkings in Alaska were approximately seven times more likely to have worn an immersion suit and 15 times more likely to have used a life raft that the decedents. It is for these reasons that the CDC is attempting to add emphasis on formal marine safety training in the deployment and use of life rafts and immersion suits in the Pacific Coast fisheries. Another suggestion by the CDC to improve the fatality rate is the implementation of a safety program tailored to the Dungeness crab fleet, which would reduce deaths in the Northwest Dungeness crab fishery.
The law offices of Beard, Stacey, Trueb & Jacobsen would like to urge all seamen to wear appropriate safety equipment and complete the correct safety training, as these statistics have demonstrated their life-saving effects. We would also urge all vessel owners to properly equip their vessels with appropriate equipment such as functioning life rafts.