Louisiana’s fall white shrimp season recently got underway bringing with it, optimism and hope of an industry bouncing back while still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have long known how important shrimping is to Louisiana’s economy, providing an estimated 15,000 jobs in the state and generates $1.3 billion, according to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.
With shrimp season here, the growing number of skimmer trawler boats seen along Louisiana’s Gulf of Mexico exemplifies the industry’s importance. Shrimpers have long desired to bring in large hauls bound for local and global markets and restaurants. And commercial fishermen also desire to work in a safe environment, but that is not always possible in this job filled with hazards.
Falls overboard, onboard incidents
Like any job in the commercial fishing industry, shrimping is dangerous. Comparing it with other fishing fleets that work in the Gulf of Mexico, shrimping accounted for the most fatalities in the region during the five-year period of 2010 to 2014, reports the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The 25 shrimp fleet deaths represented more than half of the 49 fatalities during that period among fishing fleet brethren that include snapper/grouper, oyster, menhaden, crab and shark. The leading causes of death in the shrimp industry were:
- Fatal vessel disaster (nine): Such incidents include fires, sinkings, capsizings and groundings forcing crews to abandon their vessel.
- Onboard fatality (eight): These usually occur after a worker makes contact with equipment. They may be caught in a winch or struck by a hook or pulley
- Fatal fall overboard (six): In all cases, the victims were not wearing personal flotation devices, and more than half occurred when the victim was alone on the boat or deck. Some of these incidents occurred after the victim became entangled in gear.
- Diving fatality (two): Sadly, these incidents, too, occur and a diver may drown.
Improper training and faulty equipment often account for the many injuries and fatalities within the commercial fishing industry. To keep the shrimp industry safe, we must keep our shrimp crews safe.