Updated Aug. 19 with Bureau of Labor statistics.
Commercial fishing is among the deadliest occupations in the United States, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
From 2000-2009, more than 500 commercial fishermen and women (97% of those who died were men) died, at a rate 32 times the average U.S. job, according to the CDC. Roughly a quarter of those deaths occurred off Alaska, a quarter off the Northeast and a quarter in the Gulf of Mexico, with the remaining fourth occurring off the West Coast and Mid- and South-Atlantic. In 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial fishing was 60-times as dangerous as the average U.S. occupation.
For those fisheries with the statistics necessary to calculate it, these are the most deadly, based on the CDC data for deaths per 100,000 workers, the public health standard for such assessments:
Fishery - Death Rate / No. Deaths
The deadliest fishery also includes some of the least sustainable fisheries, with Atlantic cod, halibut and flounder, and trawl-caught hake and haddock on the Environmental Defense Fund's red list of "eco-worst" choices for conscious consumers. Other deadly fisheries that are also unsustainable include Atlantic snapper and grouper.
But sustainable fisheries are also deadly, with Dungeness crab, and wild Alaskan halibut, cod and salmon ranking among the best choices for consumers who want to eat uncontaminated fish from sustainable fisheries. A new question: Should an environmentally sustainable fishery be labeled "sustainable" if this many fishermen lose their lives to bring in the catch?
Statistics CDC weren't robust enough to define a death rate for the following fisheries, but each recorded at least 10 deaths (another 165 deaths were spread across fisheries that recorded fewer than 10 deaths each).
That said, the rate of death in the commercial fishing industry has declined significantly, with 41-61 deaths per year in the last decade, following a decade when 48-96 annual deaths were recorded, according to the CDC. The U.S. Coast Guard claims success in the Bering Sea Aleutian Island crab fishery, for instance, where boats are no longer allowed to leave port overloaded with 700-plus pound crab pots or without safety equipment; while the fishery remains among the most dangerous, fatalities have decreased by 60%. Still, the rate of death is still far higher than other occupations, and remains the deadliest occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But while all fishing boats are required to carry safety gear, fishermen and women are not required to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) while working on deck. None of the workers who died from falls overboard during 2000-2009 were wearing PFDs, and falls overboard were the cause of nearly one-third of industry deaths. Vessel disaster caused more than 50% of deaths, and the CDC believes better planning could prevent many. Kate Bonzon, a fisheries expert with the Environmental Defense Fund also says instituting catch shares, so that each fisherman knows his allotted fish for the season regardless of the season's length, is more effective at reducing injuries than reducing the fishing season. Bonus: it's more sustainable, too.
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