Commercial fishing has a well-earned reputation as a challenging and incredibly dangerous industry. It’s even been labeled the deadliest job in America. Commercial fishing vessels typically operate in an economic zone that extends 200 miles from shore (defined by UN treaty and convention).

There are countless vessel configurations and sizes that fall under the umbrella of commercial fishing. However, all of these vessel types are decked, have enclosed areas, and perform fishing operations at an industrial scale. Commercial fishing vessels themselves can range from relatively small to massive “factory” ships. Over 40,000 of the world’s 4 million fishing vessels weigh in at over 100 tons.

The size, complexity, and operational range of commercial fishing vessels — and the operations within them — make for a particularly dangerous work environment. On average, 42 commercial fishing workers die every year on the job. At Montagna Maritime Law, our highly experienced attorneys know the many hazards that commercial fishers face, and we’ve helped seamen pursue legal action after injuries and accidents.

Common Types of Commercial Fishing Accidents

Commercial fishing vessels tend to operate in rough and challenging conditions. When an accident or incident occurs on a fishing boat, medical attention can be hours or even days away. That’s why the U.S. Coast Guard, which oversees all U.S.-based commercial fishing operations, recommends all crews be trained in CPR and first aid.

The following are some of the most common accidents on commercial fishing vessels:

  • Sinking – Roughly a third of all injuries on commercial fishing vessels are due to catastrophic compromises of the hull. In some cases, this is due to large waves that can capsize the ship. When the hull of a fishing vessel is sufficiently damaged, sinking can occur quickly, putting the lives of all seamen on board in jeopardy.
  • Mechanical or “factory” accidents – Many fishing vessels are equipped with complex, below-deck factories that help get seafood ready for market. Factory setups that would be hazardous on land are even more dangerous at sea and special safety precautions must be followed as a result. Accidents here can often result in severed limbs or crushing injuries.
  • Environmental accidents – By their nature, fishing vessels are compartmentalized. Small spaces may quickly become toxic, either because there is not enough oxygen or because of the hazardous materials kept there. Accidents involving these small spaces can lead to hypoxia or brain injury.
  • Slips and falls – Nearly half of all commercial fishing fatalities are due to falls overboard. A slippery deck and constantly shifting vessels — to say nothing of the long shifts and challenging work — can lead to commercial fishing workers falling overboard. Once overboard, drowning and hypothermia become the two chief safety concerns, and crew members must be rescued quickly in order to limit injuries, and save their lives.
  • Fishing accidents – Commercial fishing uses special equipment; the nature of that equipment varies depending on the specific type of fishing activity a vessel is primarily tasked with. However, fishing equipment of any kind can lead to accidents on (and below) deck.

Causes of Commercial Fishing Accidents

Identifying the cause of any commercial fishing accident is incredibly important, both in terms of preventing future accidents and to protect the rights of injured seamen. Some of the most common causes of commercial fishing accidents might include:

  • Commercial Fishing Accidents
    Inclement weather
  • Rogue waves
  • Poor decision-making
  • Incomplete training
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Negligence
  • Ignoring safety procedures or safety protocols
  • Excessively long work shifts
  • Crew exhaustion

Commercial fishing vessels often operate in short windows during which crews are under immense pressure to collect and process as many fish as possible. This can lead to a high-intensity work environment that in itself can contribute to serious accidents with life-long consequences.

Knowing Your Rights as a Commercial Fisherman

If you’ve been injured in a commercial fishing incident, you could be entitled to special compensation under maritime law. Commercial fishers are also entitled to various special protections in recognition of the heightened dangers of their occupation.

That’s why it’s vital that you have an experienced attorney by your side who understands the maritime laws that apply to your case and will fight to protect your rights. Any injured seaman is entitled to Maintenance and Cure under the Jones Act. This essentially means that you are entitled to any lost wages or medical costs as a result of your injury. Injured seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure no matter the cause of the accident or injury, whether you are at fault or not.

However, if the injury was caused by negligence, poor equipment, or irresponsible decision making, you may be entitled to more. The attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law know how important protecting your rights, and the rights of your fellow seamen, is. That’s why we represent commercial fishers to pursue the best possible outcomes and compensation in all cases.