Study: Commercial Fishing May Be Far More Dangerous Than Previously Believed

Image: FISH Safety Foundation.

A new study conducted by the FISH Safety Foundation that was commissioned by Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that commercial fishing may be far more dangerous than previously believed.

The study, published Nov. 6 on, says that research shows over 100,000 fishing-related deaths annually, which is three to four times previous estimates.

The study found that serious injuries and abuses, including child labor and decompression sickness, from workers being forced to make repeated deep dives to harvest lobster.

According to Sam Willis of the FISH Safety Foundation, the original research focused on understanding how many people die, and less on keeping track of how they died. Willis said that given the lack of information worldwide, it’s difficult to report on what are the most common injuries and deaths in commercial fisheries.

While fishing may be inherently risky, the harsh reality is that many of these deaths were, and are, avoidable, the study said. Insufficient and unenforced safety regulations were found to be a key challenge.

Katherine Hanly, manager of International Fisheries for the Pew Charitable Trust, said in many cases there’s a lot that can be done to tighten safety measures, and capacity development is certainly needed.

“For example,” she said, “you can punish people for not wearing life vests, but they should be educated to know they need them and be able to afford them. The same goes for vessel upkeep.”

Hanly also points out that international fishery law should be strengthened to hopefully encourage countries to do better. Willis suggested that “several international treaties such as the Capetown Agreement and Port State Measures Agreement should be ratified and enforced, and nations should establish regional alliances that can better enforce and control their waters.’’