Whenever I work on a story I ask people how they got involved in commercial fishing. It never seems like a choice. They either grew up in a fishing family or somehow were drawn to the water, fell in love with fishing and never looked back. It’s in the blood, I often hear.
I should also ask why. Why choose a career path that’s low-paying (median salary is around $25,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and risky? When you cover commercial fishing, reports of sinkings, men-overboard and accidents at sea are regular stories. Despite efforts to increase safety, the number of commercial-fishing deaths have not significantly decreased from 2000-2010, which saw an annual average of 46 deaths per year, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
That’s 10 times the average of four per 100,000 workers among all U.S. workers during that same time period.
One piece of good news is that the program working to increase safety in commercial fishing has had its funding preserved again. For the last two years, the NIOSH fishing safety program faced elimination in the president’s budget, but continued to be funded under a spending resolution from Congress. It’s due to be cut again in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, but it’s also again being funded in a budget from Congress.
The program is important to maintain because its researchers focus on eliminating dangers in specific fisheries instead of trying to force a one-size-fits-all solution across all working in commercial fishing.
There are some things that are always going to be risky: falling in love, having children and commercial fishing. But taking risks makes us feel alive. Though chasing wild animals on an unpredictable ocean is never going to be safe, it’s good to see support for a program trying to help those who go out to sea for a living come home again.