You won’t be surprised to know that commercial fishing is a dangerous occupation and with in that industry, some fisherman face greater peril on the open sea than others. The movie, “The Perfect Storm”, based on Sebastian Junger’s book about a sword fishing crew lost at sea during a hurricane off the coast of New England brought to light what fishing towns throughout the world already knew. Between 2000 and 2010, the commercial fishing industry’s death rate was over 30 times higher than any other vocation in the U.S.
It wasn’t until the popular Discovery television show “Deadliest Catch” was created however, that those of us strapped to our cubicles really had an inside look at the perpetual dangers of commercial fishing, especially for those who fish Alaska’s brutally unforgiving Bering Sea. Data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reveals it to be the most dangerous job in the U.S. In 2007 for every 100,000 fisherman who earned their living on Alaskan waters, 128 of them died from work-related causes. It is safe to say that this job isn’t for the faint of heart and that stack of papers that needs to be filed is looking better by the minute. From coast to coast, commercial fishing is a littered with life threatening responsibilities.
Alaskan King Crab fishing is particularly treacherous because the season occurs during some of the coldest months of the year. Alaskan King Crabs are harvested from October to January when the average temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees and storms are prevalent. While fisherman are always lifting heavy equipment, icy conditions make the deck slippery and they are more likely to become entangled in gear and slide off the boat. As scene on the show, even if a crew member is rescued after going overboard, he could still suffer from hypothermia and getting to a doctor isn’t easy. Combined with rouge waves and the potential for the boat to capsize like Big Valley in 2004, the daily life of an Alaskan crab fisherman is fraught with danger. Safety measures put in place in the late 80s has increased the rate of survival, but the hazardous working conditions and unpredictable shift in weather continue to plague this high-risk occupation.
The argument has been made that compensation for the rough life is plentiful because one trip could last just a few days and yield thousands of dollars, but a closer look suggests otherwise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median income of Alaskan fishermen is $27,250. Pay is distributed by share with the captain or owner of the boat collecting up to half the earnings of the haul and the rest paid out to the crew starting with the senior members. This isn’t the lucrative paycheck you might expect from a job that you may not return home from. The
The next time you’re feasting on our Alaskan King Crabs, don’t forget to raise your glass and toast to the crew who risked their lives to bring it to you!