Work Conditions: Fishers and Fishing Vessel Operators
Fishing operations are conducted under various environmental conditions, depending on the region of the country and the kind of species sought. Storms, fog, and wind may hamper fishing vessels or cause them to suspend fishing operations and return to port. Divers are affected by murky water and unexpected shifts in underwater currents. In relatively busy fisheries, smaller boats have to take care not to be hit by larger vessels.
Fishers and fishing vessel operators work under some of the most hazardous conditions of any occupation, and often help is not readily available when injuries occur. Malfunctioning navigation or communication equipment may lead to collisions or shipwrecks. The crew must be on guard against the danger of injury from malfunctioning fishing gear, entanglement in fishing nets and gear, slippery decks resulting from fish-processing operations, ice formation in the winter, or being swept overboard—a fearsome situation. Also, treatment for any serious injuries may have to await transfer to a hospital. Divers must guard against entanglement of air lines, malfunction of scuba equipment, decompression problems, and attacks by predatory fish.
Fishers and fishing vessel operators face strenuous outdoor work and long hours. Commercial fishing trips may require a stay of several weeks or even months—hundreds of miles away from one’s home port. The pace of work may vary, but even during travel between the home port and the fishing grounds, deckhands on smaller boats try to finish their cleaning duties so that there are no chores remaining to be done at port. However, lookout watches are a regular responsibility, and crew members must be prepared to stand watch at prearranged times of the day or night. Although fishing gear has improved, and operations have become more mechanized, netting and processing fish are strenuous activities. Whereas newer vessels have improved living quarters and amenities such as television and shower stalls, crews still experience the aggravations of confined quarters, continuous close personal contact, and the absence of family.