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NIOSH Releases Updated Regional Data on Commercial Fishing Fatalities

August 29, 2017
NIOSH Update:
Press Contact: Stephanie Stevens (202) 245-0641

Summaries indicate decline in deaths; underscore need for continued prevention efforts

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released a series of updated commercial fishing fatality summaries which analyze current trends and identify hazards in four regions of the United States: Alaska, West Coast, East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. Results of this updated analysis indicate that while commercial fishing deaths have declined across the nation, persistent and preventable incidents continue to be a problem for the industry. The summaries also highlight new areas where prevention efforts should focus research and resources.

In 2010, NIOSH published an in-depth analysis of commercial fishing fatalities due to traumatic injury during 2000–2009. These new documents are a five-year update (2010–2014) and focus on current regional hazards related to causes such as vessel disasters, fatal falls overboard, and on-board injuries. Each summary also contains regional and fishery-specific statistics, as well as tailored safety recommendations. In addition, the updated summaries include new fatality rate calculations, allowing for better comparison with rates in other industries.

“While there is progress being made to reduce risk and save lives, and that progress is cause for celebration, much more can and should be done to further prevent loss of life in this important industry,” says NIOSH Epidemiologist Devin Lucas, Ph.D., lead for NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety. “For example, the data show crewmembers on fishing vessels continue to fall overboard and drown because they were not wearing personal flotation devices (PFD). NIOSH recommends that every deckhand wear a PFD while working on deck.”

Commercial Fishing: A Dangerous Occupation

Commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Many commercial fishing operations are characterized by hazardous working conditions, strenuous labor, long work hours, and harsh weather. During 2000–2015, commercial fishermen were 29 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average U.S. worker, with an annual average of 42 deaths (117 deaths per 100,000 workers) nationwide, compared with an average of 5,247 deaths (4 per 100,000 workers) among all U.S. workers. This recent analysis found for the decade 2005-2014, the three deadliest fisheries in the U.S. were all on the East Coast.

“The good news is that fishing does not have to be a deadly occupation. Certain fishing fleets and fishing companies have given immense attention to risk reduction and operate year after year with no fatalities. These positive examples show that fishing can be done safely when resources and priorities are focused on that goal,” says Lucas. “We hope the summaries will cause vessel owners, operators, and crewmembers to recognize hazards on their own vessels and then make simple and practical changes that will potentially save lives.”

The summaries can be used by industry, marine safety associations, and occupational health professionals to understand and communicate specific hazards in their fisheries, and the included recommendations provide practical solutions to address the main causes of commercial fishing fatalities. The regional analysis also provides NIOSH researchers the ability to focus resources on high risk fisheries or regions, and encourage additional research into these areas with external partners in industry and academia.

For more information about regional fishing fatalities and solutions, please visit the NIOSH fishing safety topic page. Each regional commercial fishing fatality summary is found on the NIOSH website: Alaska, West Coast, East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries and illnesses. More information about NIOSH can be found at