Pal Weihe; Juan Ignacio Alcaide

B.1.5.1 Introduction

The world of fishing is huge and as an industry it has existed from ancient times to the present. A large variety of technologies are necessary to harvest living aquatic resources, including vessels and equipment as well as fishing gears and methods [1]. Throughout time fishers have crossed the sea in search of more generous waters, setting sail from ports or other areas of the coastline to the open seas. On fishing vessels, fishers are working on an unstable surface, at the mercy of waves and harsh weather.

B.1.5.2 The diversity of fishing vessels      

In 2014 the global fleet comprised around 4.6 million vessels, the majority of which were less than 12 metres in length. In 2016 it was estimated that around 44 600 large vessels of over 24 metres were  in operation. The largest fleet was in Asia, with 3.5 million vessels (75% of the global fleet) (Figure 2-3) [3].

Fishing vessels vary widely in terms of size and configuration, ranging from small boats with one crew on board to larger vessels that carry ice to refrigerate fish for a few days, up to large factory vessels that catch and then process fish on board. The oceanic species are caught by using trawl, seine, longline, jigging reel, gillnet and by dredging the sea floor and the processing methods vary from just cooling or freezing the fish to filleting, boiling and fishmeal production. These larger vessels may have more than one hundred seafarers on board and the diversity of a fishing vessel as a workplace is as great as that of factories on land, depending on the size and sort of fishery. In small fishing vessels, e.g., undecked boats, seafarers are exposed to weather and wind during the whole trip whereas in the large floating factories seafarers may work at a conveyor belt under deck with regular working hours.

The large vessels often have high standard accommodation. On board the newest and best vessels, each seafarer has his own room including toilet, shower and access to internet allowing communication to home. On the small fishing vessels, however, the crew facilities are often primitive with shared bedrooms and shared sanitary facilities and without any options of private telecommunication.

B.1.5.3 Crewing of fishing vessels

The crewing of fishing vessels is usually in one of two models, a national model (coastal fisheries) and an international model with regulations that are often difficult to apply. Each of these models are affected by multiple factors and inherent to the development of the activity, these can be grouped into social, economic, regulatory, and political factors.

The international fishing industry is characterized by long hours and strenuous activity. For many years, the international organisations have fought to improve living conditions on fishing vessels and tried to eliminate inequalities in issues such as: medical care, payment of fishers, hours of rest, occupational safety, health and accident, accommodation, etc. Relationships between employers/shipowners and workers are diverse. At the global level, there are two main types of payment system in the sector, the flat wage and the share system, involving catch or on bonuses.

B.1.5.4 Medical fitness to work at sea

The ILO Work in Fishing Convention 2007 states that fishers cannot work on board a ship unless certified medically fit for their duties. Such a certificate is valid for one or two years and as a minimum should confirm that the fisher’s hearing and sight are satisfactory for their duties on the vessel. In addition, a medical examination should establish that a fisher does not suffer from any medical condition likely to be aggravated by work at sea, likely to render them unfit for service, or endanger the safety or health of anyone else on board.

B.1.5.5 The location of fishing and the risks involved

Fishing at sea has been and is still one of the most dangerous of all professions.

Fishery is performed on all waters around the globe. In coastal waters, in lakes, in rivers but also in oceanic deep waters. This means that the climatic conditions surrounding fishery can vary a lot from the tropical to the polar climate, from heat that demands cooling to stay comfortable under deck to extremely low temperatures when fishing in the arctic waters. The cold can pose a threat to the safety of the ship due to ice formation and the risk of capsizing but also to the fisher due to hypothermia for a fisher falling overboard.

Common to all fishing vessels is the exposure to current and wind. Current and wind can separately and together create big waves, which can make the working environment very exhausting, and breakers may lead to the sinking of a ship. Regardless of the location of fishing and the seasons, fishing vessels foundering, or capsizing has continuously been the main cause of loss of life from vessel casualties in the fishing industry. Collisions, grounding, fires and explosions have caused heavy loss of life more sporadically. The severity of damage to the fishing vessel varies with the

  • type of vessel accident (capsize, collision, explosion, fire, flooding, grounding, and sinking)
  • vessel characteristics (size, age, seaworthy, maintenance)
  • type of vessel propulsion
  • type of vessel hull construction (wood, aluminium, steel, or fiberglass)
  • weather condition (visibility, losses of vessel stability and manoeuvrability)
  • location (distance to shore)
  • time of vessel accident (night-time versus daytime)
  • season (summer or winter)

Larger vessels tend to be at sea longer than smaller vessels, and hence their overall exposure to the risks involved in fishing will be greater [8][9][10]

B.1.5.6 Specific risks in the fishing sector

There is a broad spectrum of occupational risk within the fishing sector including chemical, physical, biological and human factors such as fatigue. More information on risk in these areas is available in Ch 6. These risks may cause musculoskeletal, dermatological, respiratory, ophthalmological and other problems, including loss of life.

Over 24,000 fishers die every year, the large majority on board small fishing vessels after a vessel accident or a fall overboard [2] [3]. Work related accidents on fishing vessels are more common than accidents in most workplaces on shore. The main reason for this is the movement of the ship. The deck is almost constantly in motion, which puts greater demands on the fisher to keep his balance when carrying a load and when having to pay attention whilst solving a task such as repairing a trawl. In addition, when fishery is good, the crew normally work long shifts and often suffer from sleep deprivation. This may cause fatigue and negligence, which also increases the risk of accidents. Further information on the effects of fatigue is available in Ch 6 and 7.

Risk related to physical load are also common in the fishing sector and musculoskeletal disorders often develop because of the physical demands of work, forced postures and repetitive movements that are undertaken.

Fishers also are exposed to biological agents, through contact with animals or with products of animal origin, including fish. Specifically in the sector, wounds obtained whilst extracting the catch from the gear can become infected and there is always the chance of finding a poisonous species of marine organism mixed in with the catch. Respiratory disorders are related to aerosol exposure to protein particles from saltwater fish, crustaceans or molluscs that can cause rhinitis or asthma. Work on deck can involve exposure to the elements, cold or hot and lead to hypothermia, frostbite or heatstroke etc. Work in the engine room can also lead to heatstroke etc.

The crews of fishing boats are permanently exposed to high noise levels, making hearing loss one of the most common occupational diseases. Noise levels vary according to the areas of the boat and are linked to sea and weather conditions. Further information is available in Ch xxx. Vibration is another common problem and further information is available in Ch. 6.7.