Commercial fishing accidents in Alaska

One out of every three work-related deaths in Alaska takes place within the commercial fishing industry, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although great strides have been made to improve safety in the Alaska fishing industry during the past two decades, it remains one of the deadliest jobs in the nation.

Commercial fishing deaths

Nationwide, an average of 46 people died in commercial fishing accidents each year from 2000 to 2010, according to the CDC statistics. Workers in the commercial fishing and crabbing industries died on the job at a rate of 117 per 100,000 in 2012, based on preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics - about 39 times the rate of other workers. Across all industries, the national average fatality rate was just over 3 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012.

Vessel disasters

According to the CDC, about half of all commercial fishing fatalities occur in connection to a vessel disaster such as sinking, capsizing or fire. The most common causes include:

  • Flooding (28 percent)
  • Vessel instability (19 percent)
  • A large wave striking the vessel (18 percent)

Additionally, severe weather conditions were a factor in about 61 percent of vessel disasters.

Overboard accidents

Nearly one-third of commercial fishing fatalities occur when a fisherman or other crewmember falls overboard. An analysis of fatal overboard accidents in Alaska, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2007, found that accidents of this nature frequently involve the following circumstances:

  • Working with fishing equipment
  • Being alone on deck
  • Slipping or loss of balance
  • Heavy weather
  • Entanglement in fishing gear
  • Alcohol use

The authors of the report suggest that many overboard deaths could be prevented by targeting specific risk factors, for instance by creating more enclosed work spaces on fishing vessels, installing man overboard alarms and avoiding situations in which workers are alone on deck.

Onboard injuries

Nearly 10 percent of commercial fishing fatalities occur as a result of injuries sustained onboard a fishing vessel, according to data cited by the CDC. The most common causes of onboard fishing injuries include:

  • Being struck by gear
  • Falling from heights
  • Entanglement in a deck winch or other equipment

Alaskans who have been hurt or lost a family member due to a commercial fishing accident are encouraged to contact an experienced fishing accident lawyer to discuss their legal options, including the possibility of pursuing monetary compensation for the injuries, medical bills and living expenses relating to the injury. In some cases, compensation may be available without the need to prove who was at fault for causing the injury or death.