I am writing this on the United Nations’ sanctioned Human Rights Day 2016 (10 December). This year’s theme was “to stand up for the rights of someone,” so, reflecting on our industry, I wish to make a case that we need to do something for the fishermen/women of the world.

I doubt that many of us give much thought to how around 24,000 people die each year while plying their trade as fisher-folk when we tuck into a great meal of seafood. In fact, things are so bad that we don’t really know the exact number that perish and that, in itself, is an indictment on us all.

The life of a commercial fisherman has always been perilous and will continue to be so in many countries unless we do something about this.

Certainly commercial fishers are facing more risk in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Indonesia. Many of these people are poor and uneducated, and they have to go far and wide in vessels which are not adequately prepared to cope with roaring oceans and bad weather.

Of course, the likelihood today is that fishers have to go further to search for fish, which compounds the issue. For every extra minute that the trip takes, the risk is higher. Those of you that can recall seeing the movie “The Perfect Storm” will remember how poorly equipped the fishing vessel was when compared to the yacht – regrettably, this is not unusual.

But fishermen have died needlessly on land as well. One such occasion recently in Morocco saw thousands of people protest against police abuse after a fisherman was crushed to death in a garbage truck in an incident some are comparing to the death of a Tunisian vendor in 2010 that sparked the Arab spring uprisings.

According to Moroccan news website Le360.ma and magazine TelQuel, police in the northern town of Hoceima confiscated and destroyed swordfish belonging to a fisherman, Mouhcine Fikri, because he was not permitted to catch swordfish at that particular time of the year. Footage circulating online gives the appearance that Fikri jumped into the garbage truck to retrieve his fish and was crushed to death by the truck’s compactor. Fikri’s death prompted outrage on social media, and calls for protests in several cities over what is seen as police violence.

Here are a few more examples of additional deaths which I am sure could have been avoided:

  • In Scotland in May, a 36-year-old man died after his leg became snagged on a creel line being shot into the ocean from the boat – he was dragged into the sea and drowned.
  • In New Zealand in November, an investigative report on a 24-year-old fisherman who was decapitated found that key safety rules weren't followed. He was decapitated aboard a purse seine fishing boat on 14 August, 2014. The report said the vessel was operating in the Pacific Ocean, 650 nautical miles north of Samoa, when a nylon rope sling securing one end of the fishing net to the vessel broke. The weight of the net was then transferred to an approximately 48mm-diameter nylon rope called a safety choker line, which was designed to retain the net end if the rope sling failed. The crew rigged another rope to reduce the load on the safety choker line, and then continued to close the net around the tuna catch. Soon afterwards, the safety choker line broke where a bowline knot that had been tied in the rope. It recoiled and struck Muir in the head. He died instantly. TAIC found that the safety choker rope broke because it was deteriorated, and was further weakened by the bowline knot that attached it to the net end.
  • Again in New Zealand (actually the same company), a crewman died after falling 6.9 meters through an open hatch on the vessel when the vessel was in port in New Zealand.
  • A state in India has announced an increase in the compensation to the kin of any fisherman who dies while working. This was announced a few months ago following the death of Manjunath Kharvi, who had drowned. The problem was that his body was not found and, as a result, the compensation issue was in doubt. In the same accident, seven fishermen were saved when they swam for nine hours straight after their boat capsized in the sea.
  • An investigation in Scotland earlier in the year revealed that a twin rig trawler was “a poorly run vessel,” receiving 137 deficiencies in the years prior to the death of Nuertey Annang. Nuertey was born in Ghana, and was 47 years old. He died when a rope stopper parted and he was thrown “violently” overboard. At the time the vessel was around two miles east of Aberdeen harbor in Scotland. Despite searches, his body was never found. The investigation found that “The skipper and owners of the vessel consistently prioritized the catching of fish over the safety of the vessel and its crew. This resulted in the promotion of a poor safety culture.” It found that the crew, nor their vessel “had been adequately prepared to deal with such emergency situations.” Read more at http://www.ybw.com/news-from-yachting-boating-world/safety-failings-trawler-aquarius-led-fishermans-death-aberdeen-42919#TvxkolIRPSeRjsaO.99
  • In the U.S.A. this an old, but nevertheless import report confirming an annual average of 58 reported deaths; it is worth the read. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5927a2.htm

In addition, many fisher-folk are being held in jails in many countries due to illegal fishing charges. I make no excuses for illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, and clearly the crews must take some responsibility for being caught in illegal areas and fishing where they should not. However, in many cases we are not arresting the right people – the people who are organizing such activities.

An example happened recently in Pakistan, when an Indian fisherman, Mohan Jethiya Rathod, died in jail in October due to illness. Rathod was one of the seven crew members onboard a fishing boat seized by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency in the Arabian Sea on the charge of entering that country’s waters illegally in December 2015.

The Bay of Bengal is one of the roughest and toughest areas for fishing in that region of Asia. It appears that few, if any, safety measures are taken seriously by the authorities. Just recently, I was asked to see what steps we could take for developing countries commercial fishermen safety, their training and for their livelihood. We do need to do something about this, so I write this in the hopes that we can share some ideas and thoughts, and come up with some outcomes that see a massive change in this area.

A good friend in the UK, Steve Bloy, wrote a novel, “Hidden Truth” (https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Truth-Stephen-Bloy/dp/184963789X); it is all about the horrendous price that was paid by fishermen in the 19th century... and it seems not much has changed.

So few of these people have been trained and have little understanding about the dangers involved. If there are enough of us who feel and believe something must be done, then I am sure we will be able to find ways and means to implement a plan. I welcome your feedback and interest.