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Dungeness crab fishery carries high risk of death

Rough January seas can make the beginning of the Dungeness crab fishery along the Pacific Northwest coast especially dangerous. The Coast Guard and Washington state officials have been monitoring this year's fishery to make sure vessels are staying as safe as possible – and that the Coast Guard can respond quickly if something goes wrong.

Dungeness fisherman in California, Oregon and Washington have a much higher risk of death than the average commercial fisherman, according to a 2015 study of injuries in the Dungeness fishery by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Oregon State University.

An average of about two fisherman died each year between 2002 and 2014, a fatality rate higher than the commercial fishing industry as a whole during the time – and a whopping 65 times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. Of the 28 deaths in this period,

  • 20 occurred when a ship capsized or sunk, leading to fishermen drowning or enduring hypothermia or other major trauma; and
  • 8 occurred when a fisherman fell overboard.

None of the fishermen who drowned from falling overboard were wearing PFDs at the time.

This study was the first to look at nonfatal injuries in addition fatal ones. Based on the data available, it looked like nonfatal injuries were relatively uncommon in the fishery – and even lower than the nonfatal injury rate for all U.S. workers.

Of the nonfatal injuries that were reported, the most common ones happened while fishermen were handling the gear, often resulting in injuries to fingers, hands and arms.

The researchers noted, however, that many nonfatal injuries go unreported. So one takeaway for fishermen: don’t let your injuries go unreported. You may be able to receive compensation for your injuries under the Jones Act, and you may also help researchers understand how fishermen are getting hurt – and, by extension, how other fishermen might stay safer.

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