Offshore InjuryBlog

Oystermen, Shrimpers, Crabbers and Other Offshore Workers

Seafood is enjoyed by diners across the globe, offering nutrition and flavor. The way seafood is prepared is as varied as the species that live in the ocean. The most popular way we eat seafood is raw, baked, fried, or boiled. Per capita, humankind eats 20kg of fish per year. Worldwide, the aquaculture industry produced 74 million tons of seafood!

Given how much seafood we consume, our oceanic diets rely on the commercial fishing industry, responsible for the capture or farming of different forms of sea life. It's due to their efforts that the world has access to a much more efficient (and healthy) source of food. These men and women work to provide high-quality products for wholesale buyers and distributors...sometimes at great risk for themselves. Here's a little information about each role:

Shrimpers

Much like oysters, shrimp can be farmed as well. Shrimp farming involves three elements of a supply chain: hatcheries, nurseries, and grow-outs. Shrimp fishery is also a major commercial fishing industry, bringing in almost 3.5 tons of shrimp in every year. However, the industry has been controversial in some circles because of the accidental capture of protected sea turtles. Shrimping offshore is also a high-risk job, as waters can become volatile during fishing season.

However, rough waters can't account for the high fatalities. One study found that shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is far deadlier than crab fishing in the Bering Sea–made famous by the popular TV show "The Deadliest Catch." Despite relatively calmer waters, Gulf fishermen were more likely to fall overboard without crewmembers noticing.

Experts believe that the "derby-style" way that vessels compete to catch the most shrimp is what's creating the problem: shrimp vessels push their crews far past the point of exhaustion, leading to fatal mistakes and serious accidents.

Crabbers

Many different species of crab are enjoyed as a delicacy, including red king crab, blue king crab, snow crab, bairdi crab, and more. Crabbing is known as one of the most dangerous jobs to perform as ships have capsized due to heavy loads, workers have been injured by slipping or falling overboard. It doesn't help that the most popular work season happens during winter and hurricane season.

However, experts have noted that deaths in the Bering Sea have occurred less often over the last 20 years. Why is that? Safety advocates believe it's partly due to the Coast Guard cracking down on crabbers overstuffing their decks with steel-frame crab pots. Additionally, crabbing vessels are no longer incentivized to head into stormy weather or attempt to fish in dangerous waters. Instead, many of them are choosing to wait out bad weather or get a few hours of rest instead.

What inspired the major cultural shift? A simple change in the way crabs are fished: rather than allowing crab fishing to be a free-for-all (like it is for shrimp), vessels now have a predetermined quota–meaning the loss of a few hours of fishing time won't affect their final tally. It's resulted in far fewer deaths in the last decade than in any other decade.

Oystermen

Oysters are sold as a delicacy rather than a staple. Also used for harvesting pearls, oysters are commonly farmed on the shore by oystermen. Farming oysters for consumption and pearl harvesting can take place in three ways—all three involving the initial cultivation of the oyster to the size of a spat. The three methods include dredging, cages, or cultures.

In 2016, the U.S. harvested 35.2 million pounds of oysters (Eastern and Pacific), worth over $200 million in value.

Fishing Crews Are Protected Under the Jones Act

A maritime employee working as a member of the crew of a vessel in navigation that is harvesting shellfish, shrimping, or other commercial fishing work is considered a Jones Act seaman. If you or someone you know has been injured while working in the shellfish industry, you may have the right to file a lawsuit to recover monetary damages.

Other industries that share the same dangers as shrimping and crabbing include commercial fishing for salmon, tuna, lobster, and clams. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 116 worker deaths in the fishing industry per 100,000 workers, making commercial fishing easily the most dangerous job in the country.

While efforts are being made to increase training and safety, the dangers still exist; as long as that is true, Arnold & Itkin LLP is here to represent injured workers and their families.

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