Hazards of Commercial Fishing

According to NIOSH, 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.

NIOSH Epidemiologist, Devin Lucas, Ph.D., lead for NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety, said, “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. By recognizing hazards on their own vessels, it is hoped that owners, operators, and crewmembers will make simple and practical changes that will potentially save lives.”

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.

NIOSH maintains the Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID), a surveillance system for workplace fatalities in the commercial fishing industry in the United States.

A review of the data from 2000-2015 found that:

  • 725 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the U.S.
  • Nearly half of all fatalities (354, 49%) occurred after a vessel disaster
  • Another 221 (30%) fatalities occurred when a fisherman fell overboard
  • Another 87 (12%) fatalities resulted from an injury onboard
  • The remaining 63 (9%) fatalities occurred while diving or from onshore injuries.

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: AlaskaWest CoastEast Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.