If you are fishing Dungeness crab off the coast of Washington, Oregon or California, you are most apt to be injured when hauling back crab pots and landing them on deck — and the injury is likely to be a fracture. Working the hauling block accounted for 47 percent of the injuries in a recent study on the types and nature of injuries and fatalities within the Dungeness fleet from 2002 to 2014. The study is out of Oregon State University and was published in the latest issue of the journal International Maritime Health.
In that time period, 28 crabbers died, which confirmed what most people already knew that the Dungeness crab fleet is the deadliest fleet in U.S. waters; the death rate is also 65 times higher than that for all U.S. workers.
While fatal injuries in the crab fleet had previously been studied, the incidence of non-fatal injuries had not been examined. Understanding the nature of the injuries was an important part of the Oregon study. But the 45 injuries within that 12-year-time period was something of a surprise. It’s an injury rate much lower than in many other fisheries: ten times lower than for the Alaska freezer-longline fleet and 13 times lower than the freezer-trawl fleet.
It’s likely that the nonfatal injury numbers is a result to underreporting. “In general,” the report says, “underreporting of occupational injuries from employers has been linked to concerns of financial and regulatory repercussions, and the burden of reporting itself may be a barrier.”
To get a better understanding of injuries and safety issues in general among Dungeness crabbers, Oregon State University’s Laurel Kinci, one of the authors of the study, will be leading focus group meetings with fishermen and surveying fishing crews along the Pacific Coast to learn more about safety and injuries, and develop several interventions to help reduce injuries among crabbers.