National Fisherman recently published an article I wrote on labor law in the commercial fishing industry in their September 2014 issue. The legal rights outlined in the piece not only apply to deckhands in the fishing industry but to all seamen working from US ports of call.
Commercial fishing is a brutal industry. Whether in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Atlantic, sleep deprivation, harsh conditions and strained muscles are routine. Those of us dealing with the ferocity of the job are usually in it for more than just the love of the fishing life. There’s got to be a financial reward that comes with getting beat up for a living. The last thing a deckhand should have to worry about is getting their wallet beat up by captains looking to improve their own bottom line.
There is no shortage of stories of deckhands getting ripped off by captains: shares lower than agreed to, inflated expenses and manipulated costs As a greenhorn, I got on the wrong boat for three weeks, got zapped by faulty wiring numerous times, and never got paid — that is, until I showed up to the skipper’s house nearly a year later, more than 1,000 miles away, and demanded my pay. He gave me 500 bucks and told me if I wanted more I’d have to take him to court. There also are many cases of deckhands making spurious claims against skippers for both pay and injury.
While we hear these stories of skippers and deckhands getting the better of each other, one thing is clear: Too few have a solid grasp of what rights deckhands on commercial fishing vessels have under federal law.