The real price of fish



Maine’s fishing community suffered a tragic blow in January when the 42-foot dragger Hayley Ann sank near Cashes Ledge and two well-respected fishermen, 60-year-old Arnold “Joe” Nickerson IV, of Arundel, and Christopher Pinkham, 44, of Boothbay Harbor, died in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Their deaths were a terrible reminder of the real cost of the fish we enjoy for dinner.

The last several months have been particularly brutal for fishermen in Maine and elsewhere.

In November, the New Bedford, Mass., scallop dragger Leonardo capsized and sank in the frigid Atlantic south of Martha’s Vineyard. Only one of her crew of four was saved. A few weeks later, a crewman fell off a scallop boat fishing in the icy waters near Nantucket and died.

Farther away, the Gulf of Alaska crabber Scandies Rose sank in bitter cold and heavy seas on New Year’s Eve. Only two of her crew of seven men survived.

Eight days later, three Oregon fishermen lost their lives when their crab boat capsized crossing a dangerous bar where the Yaquina River meets the Pacific Ocean near the town of Newport. Not long after, three Texas fishermen died when their shrimp boat, Pappy’s Pride, capsized and sank in the foggy Gulf of Mexico after a collision with a 600-foot tanker.

All of these deaths are shocking, individually and collectively, but they should come as no surprise. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers commercial fishing to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. According to data compiled by the federal agency, between 2000 and 2015, a total of 725 commercial fishermen died in the United States while fishing. Of those deaths, 662 (91 percent) resulted from vessel disasters — sinkings, capsizes, collisions and the like — or during active fishing.

According to the Maine Department of Labor, 11 fatal “occupational injuries” occurred within Maine’s fishing industry between 2012 and 2018. Four of the deaths in 2018 occurred in Downeast Maine. Nationwide during that same seven-year timeframe, there were a total of 167 fatal injuries in the fishing industry.

Maine’s 11 fatal accidents tie it for fourth, with North Carolina, among the states with the most frequent fatal occupational injuries in the fishing industry. The top three were Alaska (52), Massachusetts (17) and Washington (15).

Those statistics sketch the outlines of a chilling story on the page, but the details of each fisherman’s death represent an intensely personal tragedy for some family and community.

In some local markets recently, freshly harvested scallops were on sale for as much as $19.95 per pound. The price may seem high, but every day fishermen run the risk of paying a higher one.

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