You won’t be surprised to know that commercial fishing is a dangerous occupation and within that industry, some fishermen face greater peril on the open sea than others. The movie, “The Perfect Storm”, based on Sebastian Junger’s book about a sword fishing crew lost at sea during a hurricane off the coast of New England brought to light what fishing towns throughout the world already knew. Between 2000 and 2010, the commercial fishing industry’s death rate was over 30 times higher than any other vocation in the U.S.
It wasn’t until the popular Discovery television show “Deadliest Catch” was created however, that those of us strapped to our cubicles really had an inside look at the perpetual dangers of commercial fishing, especially for those who fish Alaska’s brutally unforgiving Bering Sea. Data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reveals it to be the most dangerous job in the U.S. In 2007 for every 100,000 fisherman who earned their living on Alaskan waters, 128 of them died from work-related causes. It is safe to say that this job isn’t for the faint of heart and that stack of papers that needs to be filed is looking better by the minute. From coast to coast, commercial fishing is littered with life threatening responsibilities.
King Crab fishing is particularly treacherous because the season occurs during some of the coldest months of the year. Crab are harvested from October to January when the average temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees and storms are prevalent. While fishermen are always lifting heavy equipment, icy conditions make the deck slippery and they are more likely to become entangled in gear and slide off the boat. As seen on the show, even if a crew member is rescued after going overboard, he could still suffer from hypothermia and getting to a doctor isn’t easy. Combined with rogue waves and the potential for the boat to capsize like Big Valley in 2004, the daily life of a crab fisherman is fraught with danger. Safety measures put in place in the late 80s have increased the rate of survival, but the hazardous working conditions and unpredictable shift in weather continue to plague this high-risk occupation.
The argument has been made that compensation for the rough life is plentiful because one trip could last just a few days and yield thousands of dollars, but a closer look suggests otherwise. This isn’t the lucrative paycheck you might expect from a job that you may not return home from. The next time you’re feasting on King Crabs, don’t forget to raise your glass and toast to the crew who risked their lives to bring it to you!
Why was Alaskan fishing named the most dangerous job in the world?
Most people’s brief list of occupational hazards climaxes at Blackberry thumb. A world away from corporate cubicles, Alaskan fishermen literally risk life and limb to haul in the millions of tons of seafood that ends up on dinner plates.
In general, the commercial fishing industry is not for the weak at heart. Each year, it places thousands of workers on the world’s shorelines at the mercy of the ocean, and job lists consistently rank commercial fishing among the dirtiest and deadliest. In Alaska, the stakes are higher since the getting is so good — almost 95 percent of the U.S. salmon supply comes from the state’s fisheries [source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game]. The fishing industry pulls a big load in the Alaskan economy, comprising close to half of the state’s private sector employment [source: Alaska Department of Fish.
But the weather and waters sometimes clash with the fury of an angry Poseidon. Hauling up nets or cages weighing several hundreds of pounds is hard work. Add pelting rain, rogue waves and icy decks, and that work becomes lethal. Because of the state’s geographical location, the waters are often colder and more unforgiving than other fishing environments.
These conditions add up to the deadliest occupation in the United States — 128 per 100,000 Alaskan fishermen perished on the job in 2007, 26 times the national average [source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health]. Fishing deaths also make up about a third of all occupational fatalities in Alaska each year.
But within the Alaskan fishing industry, one subset takes the title of most unsafe — crab fishing. The focus of the Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch,” crab fishermen work one of the most dangerous jobs in the world in hopes of reaping the riches that come with a boatload of crab.
Why can crab fishing turn into a Russian roulette game with the sea? And what’s being done to help tame these dangers? On the next page, we’ll crack open the crab fishing industry to learn why fishermen gamble with their lives on the boats.