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Why is commercial fishing so dangerous?

Fishing for fun is typically relaxing, safe and uneventful. Many people enjoy it as a way to pass the time on a lazy Saturday afternoon. They take their children with them, kick back, relax and see if anything bites.

So, why is it that commercial fishing is often referred to as one of the single most dangerous jobs in the world? Why did one study find that professional fishermen are 42 times more likely to pass away at work than workers in other fields? How could something so low-key and enjoyable turn so very deadly?

The setting

For one thing, commercial fishing is often deep-sea fishing where the environment is inherently very dangerous. Those who go out for an afternoon of fun generally stay within sight of land, often close enough that they could swim to shore if necessary. Commercial fishermen push boundaries and explore areas where land is many miles from the boat.

As one professional fisherman put it: "If there's a problem on the boat at sea you can't exactly pull over and call AAA."

It's not just that the stakes are higher. A problem in the middle of the ocean means no one is close enough to help. The crew on the boat must have the knowledge and training to solve their dilemmas by doing whatever it takes to get out of danger. This often leads to injuries and even fatalities.

Safety training

Some in the industry believe that the key to fewer fatalities lies in giving professional fishermen more safety training. Do they sometimes find themselves in emergency situations without the training necessary to get out of it on their own? You do not have time to think or ask questions in an emergency. You simply need to act. Fishermen who get minimal training may put themselves in grave danger.

In fact, some have even asked the Coast Guard to get more heavily involved. They rationalize that giving the Coast Guard more authority over safety matters rather than just responding to calls could reduce fatalities at sea.

Life-saving equipment

It's also important for boats to have the proper life-saving equipment on hand at all times. This could include things like life vests, survival suits, ropes, whistles and lights. Workers need proper training so that they know how to use this equipment correctly, and they also need boats that are fully prepared for the unexpected.

Dangerous conditions

Perhaps the biggest problem is that fishing means tapping into a limited supply of resources. Multiple boats may be engaged in a so-called "race to fish" during the various seafood seasons. This could cause crews to fish in very dangerous conditions.

Your rights

Have you gotten hurt while working on a fishing vessel? Make sure that you know exactly what rights you have moving forward.

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Oakland, CA 94607

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