The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks commercial fishing as the deadliest job in the United States. And despite the popular notion from reality TV's "Deadliest Catch," featuring Alaskan crab fishermen, the most dangerous fishery is in the Northeast.
From 2000 to 2009, workers in the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery, including fish such as cod and haddock, were 37 times more likely to die on the job than a police officer, according to a National Public Radio report.
A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report shows that 70 percent of those deaths and those in the second-deadliest fishery, Atlantic scallops, followed vessel disasters such as a fire, capsizing or sinking. Most of the rest were caused by on-board injuries or falling overboard, often by getting tangled in heavy overhead equipment.
Not one of those who fell overboard and drowned was wearing a life jacket.
An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, NPR News and Boston public radio station WBUR found that despite earning the odious ranking as America’s deadliest job, commercial fishing in the Northeast operates in a cultural tradition and regulatory environment that thwarts safety measures.
Although the Coast Guard requires seaworthiness inspections of passenger ferries and other commercial vessels, fishing boats are not inspected despite a request from Coast Guard officials.
At Chatham Harbor on Cape Cod, Bill Amaru runs one of the last cod fishing boats from a harbor that used to be so prolific, fish markets labeled cod Chathams. Now strict federal rules limit how much he can catch. Many other cod fishermen have gone out of business. Amaru doesn’t like the idea of the feds inspecting his boat.
“If there’s a resentment to these kinds of rules, it’s based on the overall huge number of regulations that have come down on our industry in the last decade,” Amaru told NPR.
“So much federal ‘nanny state’ kind of telling us how to operate, when I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I need to do to keep safe.”