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Danger and other challenges continue to confront oyster fishermen

With the arrival of oyster season in the Gulf of Mexico, commercial fishermen remain on the look-out for oyster beds, dredging for these tasty morsels on the bottom of the ocean. The Louisiana oyster season, which typically takes place from September through April, has seen better times, and let us not forget the everyday workplace dangers confronted by fishermen.

In the past decade, oyster fishermen have faced one of its biggest challenges: the dwindling oyster numbers due to the BP oil spill from 2010. The spill caused irreparable harm to the Gulf region, and the oyster industry was especially hit hard. The largest marine oil spill in history occurred 40 miles from the Louisiana coast. For decades, our state was home to some of the world’s most abundant oyster beds, accounting for one-third of the country’s annual oyster harvest. However, the severe losses likely guarantee that Louisiana will drop from the top spot.

Pandemic, vessel disasters and drownings

If damage from the BP spill was not enough, the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced earlier this year, adding another threat to the oyster industry as its main restaurant clients were either forced to close or scale back in operations, leading to fewer markets for oysters.

Oyster fishermen in the Gulf understand challenges, especially the everyday ones on the job. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the oyster industry accounted for the third-most fatalities within the Gulf of Mexico commercial fishing segment from 2010 to 2014.

Of the 49 fatalities recorded during that period in the region, four of the deaths were attributed to the oyster industry. The shrimp industry accounted for the most with 25 and the snapper/grouper segment was next with nine deaths. Of the oyster industry deaths, fatal vessel disasters and fatal falls overboard each accounted for two fatalities.

Safety education encouraged

Vessel disasters and fatal falls overboard accounted for roughly 78% of the fatalities in the region from 2010 to 2014. Vessel disasters are situations in which crews must abandon ship. They include fires, groundings, capsizing, collisions and flooding. These accidents accounted for 25 or a little more than half of the fatalities in the Gulf of Mexico during that five-year span. Regarding fatal falls, 13 people drowned after falling overboard during that time span, and none of the crew members wore life jackets.

Safety cannot be stressed enough. It is good idea for fishermen to enroll in marine safety classes, conduct monthly safety drills as well as wear personal flotation devices while on deck. To an extent, oyster fishermen have more control over the everyday job challenges than they and the rest of world have regarding disastrous oil spills and global pandemics.