January 4th, 2014

How not to be safe while commercial fishing

Commercial fisherman John Aldridge made some terrible mistakes. In the wee hours of the morning, he violated several basic safety rules and got knocked off his boat 40 miles from Montauk, with no flotation devices and no way to call for help.

But then Aldridge got smart. And then he got lucky.

I’ve lived in many areas of New England where there’s a great deal of commercial fishing. When you live in such communities, you can’t help but notice how dangerous the occupation is, even today:

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. During 1992–2008, an annual average of 58 reported deaths occurred (128 deaths per 100,000 workers), compared with an average of 5,894 deaths (four per 100,000 workers) among all U.S. workers…

A total of 491 (97%) of the decedents were male; the mean age was 41 years (range: 10–86 years).

Of the total number of deaths, 261 (52%) occurred after a vessel disaster, 155 occurred when a person fell overboard (31%), and 51 (10%) resulted from an injury onboard…Among the 155 crew members who died from falling overboard, none of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Of falls overboard with known causes, 43 (33%) were caused by trips or slips, 34 (26%) by losing balance, and 21 (16%) by gear entanglement. In addition, the majority of persons (82, 53%) who died when they fell overboard were alone on the deck.

Aldridge met quite a few of those criteria. His story is well worth reading.

If you’ve ever been to Gloucester, Massachusetts, you’ve probably seen the famous fisherman’s memorial statue dedicated to their bravery and their sacrifice; Gloucester had lost thousands of fisherman by the time the memorial was erected in 1925:


The inscription on the base is a line from Psalm 107. The longer passage goes like this:

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

18 Responses to “How not to be safe while commercial fishing”

  1. Mr. Frank Says:

    There are many occupations filled by manly men who often give their health and sometimes their lives so the rest of us can have what we need for daily living.

    Occupations like mining, lumbering, agriculture, fishing, and construction support daily life and are connected to physical reality.

  2. Jenk Says:

    I remember seeing a picture of workers sitting on a girder in a skyscraper they were building, eating lunch and talking. I’d be too damn scared to even think of lunch….

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    Here’s the story of the photo.

  4. Mr. Frank Says:

    Now might be a good time to think what those oil field workers in North Dakota are going through so we can drive our warm cars.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Left thinks this economy can be run on 90% slaves enriching the 1% aristocrats.

    I don’t believe it. They’re going to need a lot more slaves for that.

  6. lacune Says:

    Eventually some young liberal will figure out that that’s a quote from the Bible on that Gloucester memorial and crusade to have it torn down.

  7. JohnC Says:

    What an amazing story. What an amazing, resourceful young man.

  8. Don Carlos Says:

    Historically most ‘ironworkers’ were Mohawk Indians. Don’t know about today, though.

  9. Artfldgr Says:

    unlike the marines you cant change realities settings for pullups or screwups… so there arent many women in any of those stats… the disparate impact in terms of occupational deaths is, to say the least, gargantuan

    though i hear from time that men are obsolete…

  10. Jenk Says:

    Yeah, I knew about the Mohawks but never knew why–helluva way to make a living, even if it was the “family business”. But that’s also how it is with the fishermen and quite a few other trades and occupations–one is expected to carry on the family tradition even if not necessarily so inclined. Just ask any mummer after he’s frozen his butt off….

  11. parker Says:

    The salt of the earth – those who put food on the table, and put fuel in the engines, and build the shelter, and protect the (mostly) undeserving ‘innocents’ – are the real heroes. We have forgotten where we came from and what made us a truly great nation, a society never before seen upon the earth. This will not end well.

  12. Mr. Xyz Says:

    Truly one of the great survival stories, even if I had to go to the NYT website, and I do add a comment about the story at the end of this comment; but the sight of the Gloucester statue which I saw many times while watching the annual “Horribles Parade”, reminds me of another great survival story out of Gloucester from the late 1800’s about Howard Blackburn a fisherman who was fishing on a dory away from the mother ship when a squall came up.

    The story is better told in the book “Lone Voyager”. He was not alone at first, but lost eight fingers and two half thumbs, and then went on to make spectacular lone voyages across the Atlantic as well as circumnavigating the eastern USA as a lone sailor. hxxp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Blackburn

    He must have become the most famous resident of Gloucester and owned a Tavern there which is now a restaurant with memorabilia. Oddly, another famous Gloucester character, Mason Walton, was a hermit who wrote nature articles and also a book. It’s a very charming book in which he describes his relationship with the animals that came to visit him. At one point he says he would take his pet raccoon for walks like a dog.

    I had thought this book rare and perhaps only still available in the Gloucester Library, but I see now that an edition came out in 2008 and you could buy it on Amazon through Neo’s site!


    A more epic survival story, if you don’t mind the gruesomeness, is “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”. This describes the incident which inspired “Moby Dick. They did sail out of New England, but the real story is off the Pacific coast of South America.

    The one thing that nagged me about the Montauk story is: I don’t think they tell you why the lobster trap lines always run east-west, perhaps it has something to do with prevailing tidally induced currents? I think the author has simplified the story and that lobster traps are not literally “always laid out along an east-west line”.

  13. J.J. Says:

    A great story of courage and the will to survive. I wonder if he will ever work alone on deck at night again. If so, a life line or tether might be a sensible precaution.

    The basic industries – agriculture, fishing, logging, mining, oil/gas drilling, construction (the dirty hands jobs) – are where so much of our wealth is created. The government, through all it’s tedious, and for the most part, unnecessary environmental rules/regs, is strangling the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  14. Mr. Xyz Says:

    There are some additions to the memorial at Gloucester, perhaps on account of the movie “The Perfect Storm” that was filmed there. There are now plaques of the names of those lost and an absolutely stunning statue of a woman looking out to sea with her children. This second statue at least is known as “The Fisherman’s Wives’s Memorial”. This is one of the better images I’ve seen of it.


    If you’re moved, check out the one at night with the full moon on Google Images.

  15. JimBobElrod Says:

    Aldridge’s story reminded me that I recently watched “Captains Courageous” on TMC. I believe one of the last scenes was filmed at the fisherman’s memorial in Gloucester.

  16. JKB Says:

    What they leave out is that most MOB have their fly unzipped. Hips above the rail, both hands occupied.

  17. Tim W Says:

    I thought this article provided some desperately-needed context — which was completely glossed over in the NY Times coverage:


  18. neo-neocon Says:

    Tim W:

    Good points in that article you linked to. It seems to have been a point of pride not to take those simple precautions, plus perhaps people relax about the risks if they’ve been doing this a long time without incident. Probably seems wimpy to do it.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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