Fishing vessels may be classified as:

  1. the Deepwater and Ocean-going Fleets, working distant fishing grounds, with a tonnage exceeding 100 GRT and 250 GRT, respectively, that undertake industrial activity with appropriate mechanisation of  fishing tasks and product preparation.
  2. the coastal or Shallow-water Fleet, working waters under national jurisdictions or in closed fishing grounds, with a tonnage between 20 and 100 GRT, that carry out a primary industrial activity.
  3. and the Artisanal or craft fishing Fleet, comprising small vessels, with a tonnage of less than 20 GRT, and that get underway daily to fish.

The Coastal and Artisanal fleets have similar characteristics: the ship owner usually works on board as one of the crewmembers, since the company is usually family-owned and managed. The number of crew per vessel does not usually exceed ten persons. The fisherman is an artisan or craftsman who has a thorough understanding of all aspects of fishing; there is no clear hierarchy among the crew, and the remuneration system is by shares of the net proceeds. In Spain this is known as "a la parte" and in Britain as “catchshare”: the "salary" of the workers takes the form of a proportional share, determined by the position held on board, of the profits obtained from the catch. This system permits all the crew to obtain a benefit from their work, but can be a risk factor that encourages fishermen to accept unsafe working conditions and prolonged working days. The time spent at sea varies from one to seven days per voyage, working from 60 to 80 hours a week, and the technology and productivity are low, in contrast to the situation in the industrial fleet comprising the Deepwater and Ocean-going vessels [1].

There is a classification of the type of fishing used the Census of the Fishing Fleet, with a total of 12 basic types: stern trawler, side trawler, seine net with catharpin, seine net without catharpin, hand lines, longline, other hook gear (rods and lines, tuna longline, and currican/trolling), traps/pound nets, gill nets, dragnets, multi-purpose gear and multi-purpose vessels. [2] At present, a clear division exists between the more modernised vessels, and those that continue undertaking artisanal fishing [3].

The rate of mortality in fishing is very high in comparison with other occupations [4-6]. Although accidents involving the vessels themselves are the most significant single cause of death for fishermen, there are other major causes on board, particularly working accidents and serious diseases, which can also lead to loss of life, injury and incapacity. Not all vessels are equally subject to risks to safety. The smaller boats, those dedicated to artisanal fishing, are those that suffer most in terms of problems of safety; this is basically due to their small size and lack of equipment and associated defences against the assaults of the sea and weather. Other reasons include the frequent failure to carry out proper maintenance, the failure by the Authorities to monitor observance of basic safety requirements, the lack of adequate training of crews, and the absence of a general culture of safe practice that would make all parties properly sensitive to known risks [7].

The literature review shows that fishing has been and is still one of the most dangerous of all human activities [8-17]. Fishermen are engaged in an activity that has inherent dangers, some of which are not easily predicted, like sudden changes in weather and conditions at sea. Many studies have demonstrated that the conditions of work in the fisheries sector are extremely arduous and demanding; they present very high rates of occupational accidents [4, 15]. Safety at sea is a serious issue for the commercial fishing industry; as the industry ranks highly in all assessments of occupational dangers including risk-taking, injuries, and fatalities [18]. This is not a problem limited to either developed or underdeveloped countries: it is a problem of the sector itself, but clearly the poorer countries with fewer resources are more seriously affected. But even in the European Union, the ratio of fatal accidents in the sector to those of all other occupational activities reaches incredibly high figures: 22 points in Sweden; 21 in Italy; 15 in England; 16 in the United States; and in general more than 40 times higher than the national average. In the developing countries the limited data available show rates of mortality between 10 and 100 times higher than the European rates, although it must be stated that in many cases the information supplied is scarce and there are some countries that do not have any records and, even less, any usable statistics [19]. The International Labour Organization has estimated that, worldwide, 24,000 fatal accidents and some 24 million non-fatal accidents occur every year in the fisheries sector [20].

Our research group in the University of Cadiz has focused its work on the study of Safety in the Artisanal fishing fleet, taking this segment of activity in our region, Andalusia, as our reference [21]. Since the year 2000 we have been working to create a database from inspections made of artisanal fishing boats; however, this work has resulted in the identification of a series of significant dysfunctions, on the basis of which we have concluded that there is a real need to put into effect measures that the Regional Government itself is already incorporating in its safety inspections.

Bottom trawlers.

International regulations

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) [18] are the three specialized agencies of the United Nations that play a role in fishermen’s health and safety at sea. The desire to increase the safety of life at sea and protect all seafarers in their working context through a common International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers gave rise to the convention, signed on 7 July 1978, referred to as STCW-78.  The 1978 convention did not enter into force until April of 1984. Since that date various amendments have been made to the convention.  By 1992, the 1978 convention had already been ratified by many countries. It was realised that the degree of competence of the seafarers was an important factor in the safety and efficient operation of ships. For this reason, in 1992 the International Shipping Federation (ISF) made proposals to the IMO to amend STCW-78. This revision became necessary because many of the lapses of safety on board ships were clearly attributable to human factors: continuous changes of crew, deficient training, etc., and unfortunately this continues to be the case. The existing convention was not adequate to deal with this situation. It contained beneficial principles but did not sufficiently specify how to implement them. It only stipulated some minimum requirements for obtaining a certificate but generally left their application to the “judgement of the governments”. It was open to different interpretations and did not set down a common minimum level of competence. Some of the certificates issued by certain countries could not be trusted and the countries did not guarantee their application.  At the IMO conference in 1995, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) was adopted for the training of personnel working on board fishing ships. Previously, efforts to improve the training, certification and watchkeeping standards of fishing vessel personnel in particular had been adopted as recommendations in IMO Assembly resolutions and the Document for Guidance on Fishermen' Training and Certification produced jointly by the IMO, FAO and ILO. The Document for Guidance took account of the conventions and recommendations adopted by the ILO and IMO and the wide practical experience of the FAO in the field of fishermen’s training and covered training and certification of small-scale and industrial fishermen. In 1995, a joint working group, in co-operation with the FAO and ILO, reviewed the Document for Guidance with particular reference to relevant resolutions of the STCW-F Convention. The outcome was a revised document entitled Document for Guidance on Training and Certification of Fishing Vessel Personnel, which was approved by the FAO, ILO and IMO in 2000 and published on behalf of the three organizations by the IMO in 2001 .

The inadequacy of STCW–F is evident: The 1995 Convention, which has not come into force, would have needed the ratification of at least fifteen States in order to become effective twelve months after that date.  Even the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977, the first ever international convention on the safety of fishing vessels, has not become effective yet due to the low number of ratifications of this legal instrument [22]. The last IMO Assembly adopted Resolution A.925 (22), urging the Member Governments to apply and ratify the STCW-F Convention as well as the Torremolinos Protocol.

European and National Regulations

Nine years ago, Rosa Miguélez, a Socialist Member of European Parliament, made the following diagnosis in her intervention in Parliament when the situation of safety on fishing vessels was being evaluated (Brussels, December 2000):  “International legislation (Torremolinos) hardly has any effect on the improvement of conditions on vessels. The Community vessels that have sunk exceed the recommended age limit of 20 years. There are difficulties in control on board fishing vessels and inspections are not the same in the different countries. In addition, large-tonnage vessels are inspected”. The Member of Parliament also pointed out the lack of common statistics in the E.U. countries. Given this situation, she requested in the European Chamber that the complete Torremolinos Protocol should be ratified, and the essential regulations be adopted with regard to work scheduling, accident prevention and safety measures, the gradual prohibition of using fishing vessels with an age of more than 20 years, the establishment of a European system for technical and labour inspections of fishing vessels, and the inclusion of fishing vessel data in EQUASIS. Finally, the harmonising of training sought in the European Union should be done within the framework of the international training regulations, that is, under the IMO Convention (STCW-F).

Dealing with the segmentation of the sector is another important issue. The risks for the Deep-Sea Fishing Fleet, which fishes in distant fishing grounds (vessels of more than 100-200 GT), are almost completely different from those facing the Coastal Fleet (vessels of 20-100 GT) or the sector of Traditional Fishing, which is done on a daily basis (vessels of less than 20 GT). The problem is even more significant given the numerical importance of the latter sector, especially in certain regions, as in the case of Andalusia (southern Spain) [23], where the owner of the vessel is usually a member of the crew, the company is usually family-run, the fisherman normally uses traditional fishing methods which constitute a very informal yet rigid work process that is difficult to change and has no clear hierarchy in the work organisation, the working hours are between 60 and 80 hours a week while at sea, with low technology and low productivity. This is the most frequent reality and not the one the segment contemplated in the international regulations.

As Pérez-Labajos et al states [22], in Spain, for example, in the period 1994–2002, the rate and types of accidents to both fishermen and fishing vessels has tended to vary more by regions but to vary less by types of fishing. Hence the fishing safety policies should be developed preferentially in the regions of Andalusia and Asturias, where more accidents are recorded. And Menakhenm states [24] that the rate of accidents at sea and casualties among small-scale fishermen are undoubtedly higher than those in high-sea fishing. Most of these casualties are not covered by the IMO, and very few records or statistics are available.

It is important to stress that the quality of life offered by work in the fleet is not attractive to young people, who are the most important age group in respect of training. The working conditions, especially with regard to health and safety on vessels, present a serious obstacle when it comes to “modernising” the fleet and “modernising” life and working practices on the vessels. In short, in the sector that we studied, at least in our study zone of Andalusia, the scope for a stable and approved application of safety requirements, as well as for effective training in safety matters, is extremely limited. The Torremolinos Convention is applied only to fishing vessels with a length of more than thirty metres. The European Directive 97/70/EC is for ships of more than twenty-four metres and Directive 93/103/EC for ships of fifteen to eighteen metres. Only 3% of the European fishing fleet exceeds twenty-four metres.


Most fishermen of the fleet normally board or leave the boat by jumping over the side.

Fishermen’s training and use of safety equipment

With relation to national regulations, each country has established different training rules. There is a lack of uniformity in the quality as well as the quantity of study and in the time scale that the States establish as mandatory the certification of a seafarer who works on fishing ships. Certain considerations such as the tonnage, the distance of fishing from the coast and the power of the motor are common characteristics taken into account for the classification of certificates.  Maritime fisheries training, was not well regulated along the lines of other technical-professional training, at least in Spain, until a few years ago and this caused significant problems. In some cases, it did not cover the expectations all the aspects of  training for traditional access to the profession (so-called adult training). In Europe, in general, systems based on the passing of a series of academic tests alternate with the mandatory performance of practical exercises on board ships. Legislation and regulations relating to maintaining safety standards, personnel training, certification and obligatory equipment on board small-scale fishing craft remain either absent or problematic, as the ILO states (Menakhem [24]).

As for adaptation to the STCW-F Convention, and in spite of its not having entered into force in those countries with a seafaring tradition, their national standards for fishery training not only comply with these minimum requirements but also in many cases exceed them. The same does not happen in those countries that, as with the STCW Convention, have had serious problems incorporating the minimum training requirements into their national regulations.

The multiplicity of government regulations that affect health and safety at work for maritime fishery activities has the effect of dispersing and weakening control, which cannot easily be remedied without the collaboration of all the agencies that are closest to the professionals and are responsible for the sector. As Macías states [25], the origin of this problem, in Spain and in several other States, is in the different competencies of the many administrative bodies (in our case, the national and regional governments) which intervene to a greater or lesser degree in this activity: a total of twenty-one bodies in the case of Andalusia.  A priority objective should be to co-ordinate the inspection and competence activities in order to obtain the required efficiency in the application of existing standards. 

Safety and working conditions

As previously noted, there are some classic studies of mortality and morbidity of this population, with a focus on accidents in the Northeast fisheries [13,14] and other studies made of the shore-bound part of the population; these studies frequently reflect conditions of life on board that are considerably different from those in the boats of our community, which are mostly dedicated to intensive fishing relatively close to port in both time and distance. Although numerous factors are known that can directly influence the health of the sailor or fisherman, and that are present one way or another in both the fishing [15] and merchant fleets [26], it is necessary to address in particular the problem of coastal fishermen' health in order to identify areas of health and safety that need to be improved.

The working population studied is mature, and the majority have no more than primary level education. The boat masters, however, have a good practical occupational training but a moderate or low cultural level; this must be because these qualifications were obtained as part of adult training courses. In recent years, following reforms in the teaching of the corresponding subjects, the training in safety and academic educational content in general is higher. From reviewing previous studies [27], the academic level can be considered to have increased significantly in the last 10 years, together with education in health and safety matters [28].

On the state of health of workers as measured by a survey of morbidity, as felt subjectively, no major differences in quantitative terms are found from the data provided by studies conducted on other sectors of the fishing industry, such as deep-sea fishing in the respiratory, digestive and skeletal-muscle pathologies [13,29]. Numerous studies made of fishermen show the preponderance of subjective skeletal-muscle symptoms; however the correlation between these subjective symptoms and physical signs of lesion is usually low [30] and such symptoms are associated with the performance of movements and efforts of isometric elevation. This correlation between subjective symptoms in respect of soft tissues and the presence of organic pathology has been shown to be low in the case of symptoms referring to the back, hips and ankles, but, in contrast, is usually higher in the case of the shoulders [31].

It is notable that pathologies or treatments incompatible with the arduous conditions of work at sea are present (particularly insulin-dependent diabetes, angina of the chest, and depression), probably because the pre-employment health programs and periodic medical examinations are administered principally to crew members of the merchant marine or industrial fishing sectors and not to coastal and artisanal fishing crews.

Auditory and ophthalmologic problems and multifocal dermal lesions on exposed skin are also frequent; these problems can be especially relevant considering that the affected persons will probably continue with this occupational activity and attribute little importance to these adverse medical conditions; this would in part explain the greater frequency of squamous carcinomas of skin and lips described in fishermen.


Dermal lesions.

The diets on board observed in our study are poorly balanced; the calorie supply is clearly insufficient for the energy effort required by the type of work [32]. These risks are aggravated by the use of tobacco and excessive fat content of the diet. For this reason, in populations like this, where the working conditions do not allow application of the recommendations of the health promotion and cardiovascular risk prevention programs, these recommendations need to be adapted to take account of the opportunities allowed by this occupational environment.  On the other hand, many studies have been conducted [33] demonstrating that mere knowledge of these recommendations is not sufficient to change attitudes, dietary habits and tobacco use in the population.The intensity in tobacco consumption seems to be associated with the duration of the trip [34,35] or with the performance of work tasks while at sea [36]. Results from several studies seem to agree in detecting a reduction of the cardiovascular risk profile in fishermen during the last 10-15 years; however, the time-lag found with respect to the general population demonstrates the need for specific preventive strategies [37], especially when similar studies (populations of Italian fishermen) [35] associate this with an increase in the risk of lung cancer, with the consequent increase in mortality from this cause. It has not been possible to demonstrate the same for other diseases like cardiac disease or tumours of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus and bladder. An identical situation has been demonstrated with alcohol and hepatic cancer.

There is a high frequency of hearing problems: the effect of exposure for several hours to the continuous noise of the boat's engine [38,39]; some studies refer to greater risk of hearing loss when carbon monoxide exposure, high consumption of tobacco, arterial hypertension or Raynaud's phenomenon are combined in the same worker [40,41]. In addition, it should not be forgotten that prolonged or continuous exposure to noises of invariable/monotonous character has other physical and psychosocial effects on workers [42,43].

We find no explanation for the high rates of ocular refraction defects reported by the population studied. Studies conducted in populations of fishermen associate the presence of myopia and other ocular disorders [44,45] with the frequent performance during infancy and adolescence of tasks that require a high degree of attention, a possible cause that could not be checked in this study. Among the other factors possibly associated with ocular defects are the intense solar radiation and atmospheric contamination [46].

Lastly, with respect to psychiatric pathology, it is known that populations of seamen present a greater risk [47], either due to the conditions inherent in their work and working environment (isolation, disrupted social and family life etc.); hence it is important to study social conditioners to identify any harmful habits. The association between a greater prevalence of psychiatric diagnosis and sea-going employment is maintained for diagnoses related to the consumption of alcohol as well as for diagnoses not so related; however this association is not found in the population studied here.

As regards the physical conditions, the boats fish during the daytime and therefore the crew members spend most of their time working on deck at the various fishing activities, and only need a place to rest for short periods between shifts. This possibly explains the relative lack of attention paid to the habitability of the interior spaces. Cabins cannot be opened to the fresh air and generally the temperature in the cabins depends mainly on the ambient external temperature. The pattern of work may also explain the lack of emergency provisions, the low percentage of vessels that have watertight doors and the little attention paid to the maintenance of these facilities; only some boats have deckhouses that can be closed on both sides as recommended by the legislation. The same lack of concern may apply to the failure to adopt the measures in the legislation referring to routes for personnel movement on board, danger zones, stairs and passageways on the boat. It should be taken into account that it is only practical to use gangways and guardrails for boarding on the larger vessels. In most cases, although the boat may have the gangway stowed on board, the personnel are not disposed to use it; most fishermen of the fleet normally board or leave the boat by jumping over the side, whether in port or when a dingy is used between the boat and the shore.  In addition to the risk of falls, there are also risks of collisions between the boats themselves, while the risk of propagation in the event of a fire occurring on board any of the boats moored in port is increased considerably. With respect to the state of the various decks on board, it is worrying that there are still around a third of the boats that do not utilise any method for the prevention of falls inherent in the slippery condition of the working environment [48-49].


Analysis of the specific risks of the different artisanal fishing methods [50]

 - Utilisation of personal protective gear (ppg).

The essential requirements of health and safety applicable to the design and manufacture of protective equipment follow the European legislation with its corresponding implementation in the national regulations. By attaching or printing the CE marking on the product, the manufacturer declares that it complies with these requirements. The safety belt is the fundamental element for avoiding falls at different levels and should be utilised in work that requires the displacement of the fisherman where free falls are possible: hardly ever of the fishermen have safety belts available on their vessel, but even these few never utilise the belt. The risks derived from fishing tasks that can affect hands are incurred by the handling of both the fishing equipment and the catches; this makes essential to wear gloves that are selected correctly in respect of size, material of manufacture and properties. Gloves made of wool and synthetic material are not commonly used. Among a half of fishermen who do possess them:  or never used them, or only used them during the fishing tasks and only a minority always used them. In the classification of the catch, an activity that is performed in most types of fishing, only a quarter utilise gloves always. It is in this activity of classification where the greatest risks exist (i.e., pricks, bites, cuts, etc., from the species fished). For the protection of the lower limbs in the fishing sector, waterproof boots are utilised. Their soles should present a high degree of adherence to prevent slipping. Their utilisation should be obligatory and only boots of approved type should be utilised. There are “normal” boots whose exclusive function is to protect against water, and others with protection of reinforced toe cap, with consequent resistance to perforation and corrosion. Therefore, the safety footwear employed during fishing is waterproof boots: most always wear them, only a minority never wear them or do not have any. The use of waterproof clothing as personal protection is important because the work is physically hard and life on board means constant exposure to water; the purpose is both to maintain body temperature and to protect against knocks, abrasions and injury caused by projections: usually it is always worn, and some fishermen only do so when actually fishing. The colours of the clothing worn are: orange, green and yellow, with only small percentages red or grey. Regarding the use of protective goggles in the selection of fish caught, few of those surveyed use them. The use of goggles would help prevent eye infections and injuries that can be caused by the projection of scales and liquid.

- Winches and hauling equipment

There are no specific regulations for the machinery used on fishing vessels, in respect of the correct handling of fishing gear. All that exists is a European regulation on machinery in general, that is implemented at the national level. Most winches are of the hydraulic type. A valuable added advantage that affects safety is the possibility of fitting remote controls, with the mounting of valves in parallel with the principal valve. Most boats have sufficient room and visibility in the machinery working zone; and a half have controls with the following commands marked on them: haul in or crank: stop: and slacken or pay out; something more than a half do not have a system that prevents overloading by the catch when the net is hauled in; most do not possess double controls, local and remote; the remainder do possess double controls. Only a minority have the double controls configured in such a way that simultaneous handling is blocked. In the event of a power failure, a few boats possess safety devices to prevent over-hoisting or the accidental dropping of the load. Winch breakdowns have occurred in a third of the cases surveyed. The boats fitted with winching machinery are mostly trawlers and seine netters: one in four trawlers utilise automatic guiding devices and only a minority utilise a dynamometer on the suspension hook. As a general rule, boats switching gear throughout the year are fitted with different hoisting devices, and depending on the gear to be employed, they utilise one or another type of hoist. The seine netters employ cranes for hoisting the net. Eight out of ten smaller boats use a hydraulic hauler; they may also have pulleys, jibs and winding engines. In a small percentage hauling in the gear and raising the anchor are operations carried out by hand.

- Stability

It is important to take into account of where the heavy tackle is stowed, because the closer it is to the keel of the boat, the more stable the vessel will be. The fishing tackle is usually carried on deck or a minority in the hold. In four of ten cases the hold is divided into sections by a bulkhead that separates the fish from the ice. In a few of the boats there is no hold, thus only the deck of the boat is available. When not fishing, majority of those surveyed always close the hatch cover to prevent water from entering the hold, while underway only 7% never close it, in some boats of smaller dimensions, the hatch cover is kept open to let the engine "breathe".

Analysis of risks as classified by type of gear

 - Bottom trawling

There is enormous variety in the length of the bands and of the poundnet that comprise the fishing gear: Most of the fishermen do not fit the overpound net.  The number of pay-outs and haul-ins that are done can range from 1 up to a maximum of 50 depending on the duration of the working day or trip, which can be from approximately 6 hours to 5 days, as it occurs in some places of Andalusia. Some have been trapped by mesh nets or by the slacking of ropes or cables and/or have been dragged into the sea when the tackle is paid out. In majority of cases the guide blocks or pulleys are fitted with safety catches, which are used for preventing the detachment of the cables.

- Seine netting

The net that is utilised in seine fishing net can reach a length of 4500 m and a height of 110 m. In the boats that use oil and gas lamps, the number of lamps and their power rating will depend on the size of the fishing boat. As a general rule, the lamps employed to attract the fish are located in the small lamp boat, but they can also be situated in the fishing boat (a minority) or in both. Only one of ten of the boats surveyed carry the auxiliary boat on board and a half utilised the leading boat or the lamp boat as lifeboat. Guide blocks, with safety catch are carried by the half of boats; only a third carry special quick-release openings for throwing the load on to the deck. Accidents caused by burns or fires due to the oil or gas lamps of the boat are characteristic of seine net fishing; however, accidents of this type have not been described in the survey conducted, and only ten per cent recall having had some accident due to a cable breaking. Lifejackets are worn in the small auxiliary boats by a half of the crew members; and only a minority recall any operation in which the stability of the boat was endangered by fish overloaded in the net.

- Longline or boulter fishing

The hooks used in fishing with longline are mainly curved, although they can be straight; their size varies depending on the catch species, usually of size 6; their number can range from 30 up to 4000 in a single set; the number of sets deployed varies from 1 up to 20 according to the duration of the working day. In bottom hooked lines it is customary to utilise stones as ballast, followed by concrete blocks, and on the largest longliner fishing boats a maximum of 3000 kg in ballast could be carried on board. The type of bait used is very varied. About in a half of the boats surveyed, the baskets, buckets, and line reels are fastened so as not to tip over in bad weather. In the largest longliners there is an area on deck used exclusively for placing the longline. Only a third utilise gloves when priming the hooks with bait or when handling the longlines, and in the same proportion some fishermen recall some accident involving the teeth of fish species. The cases of bites that occur most frequently are those produced by the cutlass fish and the moray eel. Of those surveyed one of four recall some accident caused by gear hooks resulting in serious wounds. In some of cases workers have suffered pricks due to the handling of hooks, presumably without wearing personal protective gear.

- Small-scale fishing

In small-scale fishing a large number of fishermen switch between different types of gear throughout the year. Out of the fishermen who utilise small-scale gear, a third recall some accident from the teeth or spines of a species caught, mostly pricks produced by the poisonous spines of the weeverfish, and some persons recall accidents from being hooked in the gear. The trammel nets utilised have an average length of 3000 m and a height of 1.5m, and aprons with a maximum mesh size of 60 cm. Various types of trap are used, mainly employed in the fishing of soldier shrimp, octopus and shrimp, for which sardine, bogue and sardinella are used as bait. The traps are fabricated from several different materials such as cloth, rattan and plastic. The mean length of time for setting them is 27 hours approximately. The alcatruces, which consist of clay pots employed to catch octopus, can number as many as 2500 in each set. The boats dedicated to drag netting have a mean dragging distance of 221m and most of them carry on deck 3 to 4 drag nets, positioned on both sides, carrying out a maximum of 50 sets in each working day. According to the target species fished, their mesh size ranges from 1cm up to 16 cm. Only a minority utilise the hydraulic dredge for fishing; this is employed for the extraction of molluscs by means of powerful submarine blasts; the molluscs are brought on board by suction or conveyor belts. The pressure of the jet employed is 2 Kg or 3 Kg and the mean dimensions of the bottom plate or grid are something more than 2 meters wide. Among the other types of net utilised, the zorta is employed in some cases; nets are also utilised for red and common pandora, red mullet, hake, caramote prawn, etc. These have a mean mesh size of 5 cm, a height of 4 m and a maximum length of two thousand meters. In fishing conducted with types of hook different from those employed on longlines, the main types of bait utilised are mackerel, sea bream and sardine.


Many Conventions, agreements, norms, guidelines, from IMO, ILO, FAO, ISF, ITF and other international organizations, are aimed at improving fishing safety, but the inadequacy of STCW–F is evident. The European Union allows a normative framework but is not applicable to the majority of the fishing fleet.

In general terms, it is important to select the correct personal protective gear in relation the particular nature of the risks, as previously discussed, including risks from the activities carried out prior to embarking, such as getting the boat and fishing tackle ready for use, the loading of tackle, equipment and supplies, the activities during the fishing work, and the subsequent unloading. The use of safety belts to avoid falls from upper levels is not considered essential by those who fish, as is clear from the reported lack of use on board. In the protection of hands, gloves should be utilised. Because they are rarely used; particularly during the selection of the catches, fishermen suffer from pricks caused by various species that may lead to skin rashes or even be poisonous. Therefore, it is recommended to use gloves with sufficient length to cover the complete forearm. In longline fishing a third of all accidents are caused by bites from various species, and in small-scale fishing, bites and pricks account for many of the accidents among fishermen. Mechanics and those charged with operating hoists and similar machinery on the vessel should also wear safety gloves to avoid accidents. Protection of lower limbs appears to be accepted but should also be improved by wearing boots with protection not only against water but also against the mechanical risks that could be incurred on deck. The study of artisanal fishing fleet shows the existence of a significant percentage of accidents due to slipping. All fishermen possess waterproof clothing, but perhaps there should be more attention to the colour of the waterproof material, so that bright and reflective colours are always worn; these colours would obviously be better for the detection or location of anyone unlucky enough to fall into the sea. It is significant that only one of five of the fishermen recall an incident of falling into the sea. Almost all the boats surveyed have sufficient room and visibility in the winch or hoist working area but, despite this, one in ten of accidents are produced by becoming trapped in tackle, cables, ropes, etc., or by impacts from these. It is also important that the machinery should be fitted with correct markings or devices (indicators, signals, etc.) that state what is necessary for it to be operated safely: only the half of winches have the commands of "haul in, stop, and pay out" marked on the controls. Equally important are the systems that prevent catch overload when hauling in the net; these only exist on a small percentage of boats. They should also be fitted with double controls, local and remote, to be able to operate them from the bridge.

In each type of fishing various specific tasks have to be performed that entail characteristic kinds of risk; we conclude this study by considering these.

In the trawler fleet, the main tasks or operations performed in trawling are: paying out, towing and dragging the gear, hauling in the gear with the catch, and handling the fish. The trawlers with greater length of service usually have wooden stern gates, and those of more recent construction and greater length have steel gates. During the visits to the various ports, it could be observed that both the winches and the stern gates, in some boats, were very rusty; this represents a risk of infections if workers suffer injuries like abrasions, cuts and pricks. The use of safety catches on the guide blocks prevents the detachment of the cables, which can produce serious injuries, even amputations, due to the whiplash effect when safety devices fail, are released incorrectly, or when cables and ropes break under tension. The employment of automatic guides would prevent the occurrence of the load dropping or moving accidentally, with the consequent risk to the crew of being hit, trapped, or crushed, and the risk of loss of stability of the vessel.

In the Purse-Seine fleet, the tasks and operations, from the time of leaving port until the vessel's return, and the preparations for when the vessel next gets underway, include the following: hoisting the auxiliary boat on board; mooring and towing the lamp boat; and putting out to the open sea; gathering the fish; paying out the gear or setting the seine net, recovering the gear, and unloading the fish.

During the hoisting of the auxiliary boat on board, there were no reports of accidents such as strains or the boat falling into the water; this is probably because only a small percentage of vessels carry this type of boat on board. As a general rule the auxiliary boat is towed behind the fishing vessel. During the location of the fish, the Master of the vessel can suffer eye-strain from the echo-sounder screen; all vessels should have the echo-sounder well illuminated, so that no damage is caused to the vision of the fishermen for this reason. Purse seine fishing with lamps at night is the purse seine system par excellence, and is typical of the Mediterranean area.

In addition to the risks incurred from purse seine fishing itself, the extra risks derived from the use of the lamp boat should be considered. As a general rule, when the lamp boats are being towed, there is a risk of becoming trapped between the rails, as well as risks of burns, explosion of lamps, and falls into the sea, etc. The survey conducted did not detect any accident due to the use of lamp boats, and more than half of the fishermen reported wearing life jackets while in the auxiliary boats, in case of possible falls into the sea. These kinds of risks can be avoided by placing the lamps on the bridge of the vessel, as it occurs with the more recently constructed fishing vessels.

During the paying out of the gear, the risks that can be incurred are mainly falls, strains and impacts from getting entangled in the ropes. Of the total surveyed, one of ten of fishermen had suffered some accident or other from getting trapped, therefore it is essential that the winching machinery and reel should be operated by experienced personnel, in both trawling and purse seine fishing. The same occurs when the net is hauled in: it is important to operate the winch correctly to avoid entanglement of the catharpin. It was found that only one of ten of the fishermen had suffered some accident because of the rupture of a cable or catharpin.

With reference to this type of gear, the survey also asked about the material employed in the fish containers used. In the majority of the ports wooden crates or boxes are used to load the fish; this produces risks of scratches and pricks for the fishermen and reduces the quality of the fish. In the survey conducted, a minority of those surveyed employed plastic containers (not including boxes of expanded polystyrene).

In the Longline or boulter fleet, the tasks and operations characteristic of this type of fishing gear are different from those discussed previously, basically due to the use of hooks. The operations undertaken are the following: handling and baiting the fish hooks, extending the gear, pulling in the gear, and handling the lines. When baiting the fish hooks or handling the boulters, injuries can be suffered from the hooks, like pricks and cuts to the hands; for this reason the fishermen must wear safety gloves and avoid snagging their clothes on the hooks. The risk of snags and pricks from hooks can also be incurred if the baskets, buckets and line reels are not fastened against tipping over in bad weather, as it was reported on a third of the boats. The lines must also be well coiled and the hooks positioned with caution after use, and the crew members who are not participating directly in the paying out or pulling in of the lines must stay well clear. When mechanical haulers are being employed, special care must be taken not to get hands caught in the main line or branch lines carrying the hooks. Within the plans for the modernisation of the fisheries sector in Europe, aid is provided towards installing machinery for baiting the hooks and unhooking the fish automatically, which would reduce accidents produced by getting caught in this kind of tackle.

With reference to the stability of the fishing vessel, the boats fishing by bottom boulters carry on board the heavy weight caused by the ballast employed (stones, blocks of concrete, and others) which represents an additional risk, mainly when the longlines are paid out or hauled in. During the recovery of the gear accidents can occur from fish bites; half of the bites recorded were from the cutlass fish species. The reduced feeling resulting from wearing gloves is uncomfortable for the fishermen; however, they do not need so much feeling when hauling in the gear as when baiting the boulters. Also, to avoid this type of risk, the fishes that are likely to bite or are dangerous can be killed or left to die before hoisting them onto the deck and removing the hook.

Lastly, in respect of the Small-scale fishing, the risks of accidents inherent in the fisheries sector are increased in the boats engaged in small-scale fishing, mainly due to their smaller dimensions. There is not enough room for stowing the gear and lifesaving devices, which in turn makes the fishing tasks more difficult. Since the crew are fishing fairly close to the coast, they are not so aware of the risks to which they are exposed, and tend not to take care of their safety equipment.

Among the boats engaged in small-scale fishing, the hydraulic dredge is an unusual type of vessel that requires special consideration, since it introduces new risk factors in the modalities of fishing. In compliance with the particular regulations governing the fishing of striped venus clams, the hydraulic dredge is understood to be the system of shellfish extraction constituted by a metal frame installed on the bow of the vessel. This frame or dredge is in turn towed by the vessel, from its bow, and the vessel proceeds in reverse, through the action of a winch that winds in a cable joined to an anchoring device previously paid out from the stern, which constitutes the fixed point for the fishing manoeuvres. These vessels are longer and of greater tonnage, and may thus entail greater problems in respect of the stability of the vessel. In the standard there are stability criteria that these boats must comply with, depending on their GRT. The work involved in fitting the hydraulic dredge to the vessel must be undertaken, inspected and authorized according to the conditions laid down in the regulation. The metallic frame suspended from the bow of the boat may become detached at any moment, causing serious injuries or even death by crushing. This type of fishing boat has a greater degree of mechanisation, basically through the employment of the dredge, conveyor belts or suction equipment for raising the molluscs on board from the seabed; therefore, personnel must be specially trained or experienced in this type of machinery. Likewise, special attention must be paid to the maintenance of this machinery.

In summary safety policies in the artisanal fishing sector need to be taken much more seriously and conscientiously by the sector; this calls for a break from the fatalism that is traditional in past and present generations of fishermen.


The authors would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their assistance and collaboration with this chapter: Dr. C-Soriguer and Hernando (Dept. Biology, Univ. Cadiz), Dr. Novalbos and Nogueroles (Dept. Public Health, Univ. Cadiz) and the research Segumar Project trainees: Mª Ángeles Fernández Engo, Jesús Aragonés Guillén, Teresa Reinares Braza, Virginia Hernanz García, Ester Estrada López, Noelia Valle Cruz, and Fernando Castro López.

Finally, I would like to thank the EU Commission and the Andalusia Regional Government for financial support of the research project [IFOP: ESP.1.AND.5.1.2001].


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