"Unacceptable" Fatality Rate in UK Fisheries

File image courtesy Seafish

By MarEx 2016-07-29 20:49:57

The UK's commercial fishing fleet is now statistically more dangerous than Alaska's, and an industry body suggests that the nation's fisheries are now taking the unwanted title of the "deadliest catch."

In the first half of 2016, nine UK fishermen died in six incidents – more than the annual total for 2015 – and industry association Seafish says that there is concern that the numbers will rise. 

"The number of fatal accidents and serious injuries happening in our fishing industry is unacceptable. I know many fishermen watch the 'Deadliest Catch', which shows some pretty scary fishing in Alaska, but last year the Alaskan commercial fishing industry had zero deaths," said Simon Potten, head of safety and training at Seafish. "The 'Deadliest Catch' is right here in the UK with nine deaths to date this year. It's a horrific record."

Seafish also warns that the numbers show a high number of serious injuries occur in the summer months, when calm seas and good visibility might be expected to contribute to better safety. The organization warns operators to emphasize safety year round, even when they think the odds of an incident are low. 

"It may be surprising that non fatal accidents are more likely to happen during the summer months, but this is the time when most fishermen are out at sea, working hard to make a living," Potten said. "Tiredness, fatigue and complacency can easily creep up on the unwary fisherman."

The organization emphasized more safety training for crew, and promoted the use of life vests, which it will even give to fishermen for free. 

Fisherman Jerome McCartan gave an illustration of the reason vests are so important – especially in the cold waters around the British Isles. The fishing boat he was on took on water and sank, with little warning. "It started off as a normal day, we were trawling about 20 miles south east of Kilkeel and the weather was fine. [There] was some water in the bilges – this wasn’t unusual on a wooden fishing boat but as a precaution the skipper made sure the crew donned their lifejackets. In an instant, mild concern turned to panic and I was suddenly in the water," McCartan said. "I was 25 minutes in the water and near death through hypothermia when help arrived. It all happened so quickly and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale if I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket.”