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Accidents Persist In One Of Most Dangerous Jobs: Commercial Fishing

Though the commercial fishing industry is governed by many state and federal safety regulations, workers continue to be severely injured or killed while on the job. Seamen assigned to work on trawlers have recently been at particular risk of work-related injury or fatality. Fortunately, seamen are able to use the protections afforded them by the Jones Act to hold their employers accountable for accidents involving commercial fishing trawlers.

Trawler accidents

One harrowing example of how dangerous commercial fishing can be is the Alaska Ranger accident. In 2008, the fishing trawler crashed off the shore of the Aleutian Islands while on a trip to catch mackerel. The ship lost rudder control, began taking on water and called for mayday in the wee hours of the morning. Though 42 people were saved by the Coast Guard and the crew of the Ranger's sister ship, the Alaska Warrior, five crewmen lost their lives, including the captain of the ship, his mate, the chief engineer, one crewman and the ship's fish master.

Unfortunately, accidents involving fishing trawlers like the Alaska Ranger are not uncommon in the nation's waters. Two fishing trawler accidents occurred within a month of each other off the coast of Connecticut this summer. Both involved privately-owned pleasure boats that were totaled as a result of the collision with the commercial trawlers.

Preventative safety

The prevalence of fishing trawler accidents calls for a renewed interest in commercial fishing safety and legal protections for those who are injured in such accidents. State and federal law requires certain safety equipment to be in place on every commercial vessel. This includes life preservers, life boats and distress signal devices. The Coast Guard may penalize owners of vessels that are not compliant with the regulations, but also offers free, voluntary examinations of vessels for owners who are not sure if their ships are compliant with safety regulations. The Coast Guard does not cite for any safety violation discovered during a voluntary examination, gives the owner time to fix the problem, and will come back to reexamine the vessel.


Fortunately, federal law also protects the seamen who work aboard commercial fishing vessels like fishing trawlers. In the event of an injury or death, seamen and their families may hold employers liable for any damages caused by the incident under the Jones Act, which establishes employer liability in the commercial fishing industry.

If a seaman is injured while performing work duties aboard a ship on land, he or she may bring a lawsuit against employers for negligence, including improper maintenance of ship equipment and machinery. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fishing trawler accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney, who can help you explore your legal options.