Fishing at sea is among the most dangerous occupations in the world. An ILO (International Labour Organization) estimate of 24 000 fatalities annually in marine fishing could even prove to be conservative, as countries supplying the data on which the extrapolation is based might well have casualty rates lower than the norm.
As the fishing industry has developed, particularly during recent decades, the capacity to catch fish has increased enormously due to technical improvements in vessel design, employment of electronic fish finding and navigational equipment, in the incorporation of modern materials in fishing gear, and the extensive use of refrigeration. Advances in communications and transportation stimulated trade, increasing demand for fish at a rate well ahead of population growth. As stocks reached their maximum capacity to supply, fishers have been driven to compete for dwindling supplies, with increasing desperation. This has meant cutting costs, including safety measures, and taking greater risks in fishing to catch enough fish to cover costs and salaries.
Designing and implementing an appropriate system of fisheries management can reduce pressure on the fishers to harvest fish before others do so. Developing an effective approach to safety at sea involves: prevention, survival and self-rescue, and search and rescue. Training programmes in safety must be designed to adequately meet the needs of fishers and of key officials and aim to enhance familiarity and compliance with established safety procedures.
The ILO has made several attempts at introducing labour standards for the fishing industry in the past. At its 294th Session (November 2005), the Governing Body included on the agenda of the 96th Session (June 2007) of the International Labour Conference, with a view to the adoption of a Convention supplemented by a recommendation, an item concerning work in the fishing sector.