As a kid I remember sitting in a theater and watching a movie that had tuna fishing scenes in the Pacific. It seemed like great fun. The sun was out. The ocean was a beautiful blue, and it didn’t look like work at all. It certainly was better than mowing lawns and raking leaves, which I did to pay to get into the movies and buy a box of popcorn.
“Commercial Fishing Morbidity and Mortality U.S. Distant Water Tuna Fleet 2006-20012” is the first baseline assessment of hazards in this fishery. The findings are that those working on these boats, compared to most other fishing fleets in this country, are at a high risk of suffering a fatal injury, with falls overboard being the leading cause of death. There’s also a very high risk for nonfatal injuries, including head injuries, asphyxiation and finger amputations.
No wonder the terms “morbidity” and “mortality” are part of the title.
The number of boats operating in the fleet — also known as the U.S. purse seine fleet — has increased from 14 to 39 between 2006 and 2012. The average length is 214.5 feet with 28 crew members.
During the report’s time period, there were 14 deaths and 20 nonfatal traumatic injuries. The report doesn’t count three fatalities involving non-crew members, a stevedore and marine pilot that fell overboard.
Nearly half of the fatalities were from falls overboard where someone was working a line or climbing on a net. There were three nonfatal falls overboard. In none of the cases was the victim wearing a PFD.
Besides wearing a PFD, recommendations to prevent falls overboard include installing rails and creating more enclosed workspaces.
There were deaths from asphyxiation from exposure to hydrogen sulfide in a holding tank. Then there was an intentional stabbing, where one guy stabbed two others after he had been drinking. One of his victims died.
Among the nonfatal injuries there’s “digital amputation,” a medical way of saying someone lost fingers. In one case a crewman put his hand into a blower fan blade while trying to maintain his balance. In another one person was lubricating a winch drum when someone else turned it on, severing three fingers.
There’s more gruesome stuff than this in the report, but many of the recommendations for injury prevention at the end apply not only to tuna boats, but other types of fishing boats as well. They are worth looking at.