Musculoskeletal Disorder Rates in Northeast Lobstermen


The Northeast Center for Agricultural Health (NEC) in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Lowell is collecting information from lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts to estimate denominators (i.e. exposure to lobstering) and numerators (i.e. the frequency of injury, disability and mortality associated with lobstering) for an estimate of the rate of such disorders in the total Northeastern lobstering workforce and important geographical and seasonal subgroups.

Lobstering is just one of many distinct fisheries in the Northeast. The lobstering industry enjoys a very active workforce mainly in Maine and Massachusetts, while the American Lobster species itself ranges from Canada to New Jersey. Within the purview of occupational health and statistics, fishing is historically grouped with forestry and agriculture. Significant barriers to addressing occupational health issues are consistent among these industries. Thus, one of the main purposes of this study is related to two typical methodological difficulties specific to fishing occupational health research: an uncertain denominator for the population, and a lack of adequately sensitive data sources to confidently capture a valid portion of at-sea, health-related events. NIOSH has taken a significant step to overcome these dual barriers by completing a national study using recently mandated federal landings data, and scrutinizing multiple sources of fishing fatalities, to accomplish their findings as presented in NIOSH's Table.

Commercial fishing fatalities and fatality rates* for full-time equivalent (FTE) employee, by fishery type  United States, 2000-2009
Fishery Fatalities FTE Annual rate per 100,000 FTEs
Northeast multispecies groundfish 26 4,340 600
Atlantic snapper/grouper 6 3,622 170
Alaska halibut 10 7,519 130
Alaska cod 26 21,327 120
Alaska sole 21 -* -
Gulf of Mexico snapper/grouper 10 - -
Atlantic scallop** 44 10,384 425
West Coast Dungeness crab*** 25 8,092 310
Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab 12 4,658 260
Gulf of Mexico shrimp 55 - -
Northeast lobster 18 - -
Gulf of Mexico oyster 11 - -
Pelagic fish   
Alaska salmon 39 34,287 115
West Coast tribal salmon 10 - -
Other fisheries**** 165 - -
Unspecified 26 - -

*Rates were calculated by dividing the total number of fatalities for the 10-year period by total annual FTEs.

  • * Unknown
  • ** Includes the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
  • *** Excludes two Washington tribal crab fatalities, which are not included in the FTE count.
  • **** Fisheries with <10 fatalities each.

As can be seen in the table, the Northeast Lobster industry, largely regulated by state agencies, still did not have easily accessible denominator data. We are interviewing, in person and over the phone, a randomly selected cohort of lobstermen over the course of four years. We will ask them about the quantity of work activity each quarter year, and about the health status of their musculoskeletal system. As of the end summer of 2012, a cohort of 280 lobstermen was enrolled and quarterly data collection has begun with them. In addition, 75 boats have already been visited.