Commercial fishing is the activity of catching fish and other seafood for commercial profit, mostly from wild fisheries. It provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the world, but those who practice it as an industry must often pursue fish far into the ocean under adverse conditions. Large-scale commercial fishing is also known as industrial fishing. This profession has gained in popularity with the development of shows such as Deadliest Catch, Swords, and Wicked Tuna. The major fishing industries are not only owned by major corporations but by small families as well. The industry has had to adapt through the years in order to keep earning a profit. A study taken on some small family-owned commercial fishing companies showed that they adapted to continue to earn a living but not necessarily make a large profit. It is the adaptability of the fishermen and their methods that cause some concern for fishery managers and researchers; they say that for those reasons, the sustainability of the marine ecosystems could be in danger of being ruined.
There are large and important fisheries worldwide for various species of fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms. However, a very small number of species support the majority of the world’s fisheries. Some of these species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops. All except these last four provided a worldwide catch of well over a million tonnes in 1999, with herring and sardines together providing a catch of over 22 million metric tons in 1999. Many other species are fished in smaller numbers.
The industry, in 2006, also managed to generate over 185 billion dollars in sales and also provide over two million jobs in the United States, according to an economic report released by NOAA’s Fisheries Service. Commercial fishing may offer an abundance of jobs, but the pay varies from boat to boat, season to season. Crab fisherman Cade Smith was quoted in an article by Business Week as saying, "There was always a top boat where the crew members raked in $50,000 during the three- to five-day king crab season--or $100,000 for the longer snow crab season". That may be true, but there are also the boats who don't do well; Smith said later in the same article that his worst season left him with a loss of 500 dollars.
Methods and gear
Commercial fishing uses many different methods to effectively catch a large variety of species including large nets, pole and line, trolling with single lines, and traps or pots. Sustainability of fisheries is improved by using specific equipment that eliminates or minimizes catching non-targeted species.
Fishing methods vary according to the region, the species being fished for, and the technology available to the fishermen. A commercial fishing enterprise may vary from one man with a small boat with hand-casting nets or a few pot traps, to a huge fleet of trawlers processing tons of fish every day.
Commercial fishing gears in use today include surrounding nets (e.g. purse seine), seine nets (e.g. beach seine), trawls (e.g. bottom trawl), dredges, hooks and lines (e.g. long line and handline), lift nets, gillnets, entangling nets, Pole and Line, and traps
Commercial fishing gear is specifically designed and updated to avoid catching certain species of animal that is unwanted or endangered. Billions of dollars are spent each year in researching/developing new techniques to reduce the injury and even death of unwanted marine animals caught by the fishermen. In fact, there was a study taken in 2000 on different deterrents and how effective they are at deterring the target species. The study showed that most auditory deterrents helped prevent whales from being caught while more physical barriers helped prevent birds from getting tangled within the net.
During 2000-2006, commercial fishing was one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, with an average annual fatality rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 fishermen. Falling overboard specifically killed 182 fishermen in the period between 2000 and 2010. This fatality rate is 3 times that of the next most dangerous job in the U.S. and more than 25 times that of the national average across all workers. Also, between the years of 1919 and 2005, 4111 fishermen died in fishing related accidents in the United Kingdom industry alone. These deaths are generally a result of a combination of severe weather conditions, extreme fatigue due to the fact that any one fisherman usually puts in a 21-hour shift, and dangerous equipment. The U.S. Coast Guard has primary jurisdiction over the safety of the U.S. commercial fishing fleet, enforcing regulations of the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988 (CFIVSA). CFIVSA regulations focus primarily on saving lives after the loss of a vessel and not on preventing vessels from capsizing or sinking, falls overboard, or injuries on deck. CFIVSA regulations require that commercial fishing vessels carry various equipment (e.g., life rafts, radio beacons, and immersion suits) depending on the size of the vessel and the area in which it operates. Not all commercial fishermen follow safety regulations and advice. One study of Maine fishermen found that less than 25% of the fishermen interviewed had recent training in first aid or CPR, only 75% of the boats had survival suits and only 36% had a survival craft. Even the ships that did have the necessary equipment did not consistently have a captain that fully understood how to use the safety equipment.
Common causes of fishing-related deaths include vessel disasters, falls overboard, and onboard injuries. The United States National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Commercial Fishing Incident Database found that between 2000 and 2010, most vessel disasters often were initiated by flooding, vessel instability, and large waves, and that severe weather conditions contributed to a majority of fatal vessel disasters. Most falls overboard went unwitnessed, and in none of the cases documented was the victim wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Onboard injuries often result when a crew member is caught in a line and pulled into a winch on deck. The installation of a readily accessible emergency stop switch on the winch can potentially prevent these kinds of injuries.
Several institutions have tried to change the culture surrounding safety on commercial fishing boats, especially around wearing personal flotation devices. The Alaska Scallop Association mandates that every fisherman must wear a PFD while on deck of the boat, and other organizations have purchased more wearable PFDs.
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- Blue Planet Society
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- Scientific articles about Commercial Fishing