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Proper training is paramount to successful rescue operations
Proper training is paramount to successful rescue operations
Courtesy of NOAA/NMFS/A.Shimada

Fishers often seem neither aware of nor willing to admit the risks inherent in their occupation. In addition to plenty of anecdotal evidence there are scientific studies showing the risky disposition of fishers, even reporting that fishers are more prone to suffer fatal injuries on land than members of other occupations. In a Canadian study the "hierarchy of worries" among offshore fishers showed that their greatest concerns centred on the depletion of the fish stocks and the potential loss of work etc. only mentioning fear of injury on the job at the bottom.

Accidents involving fishers are more common the longer they have been on the job, and there is threefold risk of a fatal accident if the seafarer has been more than 10 years on the job. Possible explanations include that the more experienced are likely to be entrusted with the dangerous tasks and may be more prone to taking risks. Also, younger crew members are more likely to have received safety training than the older ones. This gives reason to hope that concerted efforts in improving safety education and training of fishers may result in reduced accident rates, along with improved vessel design, construction and working conditions on board.

In designing training programmes for inspectors, new trainers or the fishers themselves, several issues have to be tackled.

  • What is the framework within which the training programme will operate?
  • Who is responsible for standards and certification?
  • Who is to be trained?
  • Where will the training be conducted?
  • Who will decide on the content of the training curriculum?
  • Who will do the training?


The legal provisions for vessel safety and inspection in each country often dictate the framework within which the training programmes will operate. If the legal framework does not exist, it needs to be created - preferably as an integral part of fisheries management in a broader context. The framework for such legislation could be worked out by international/ intergovernmental/ national bodies to be used by national governments in close cooperation with the stakeholders such as vessel-owners, fishers' associations and other appropriate user groups and adapted to the specific needs of each country. It is essential to ensure that regulations take into account the varying nature of different types of fisheries. Rules that may be appropriate for a particular type of vessel do not necessarily apply to other types of boats or fisheries. Inappropriate legislation is counterproductive, as it will be perceived as unrealistic and unenforceable, resulting in non-compliance. If some obligatory regulations are not appropriate or can not be readily adhered to, they will seriously detract from the confidence which boat-owners and fishers will have in the other, perhaps fully justified regulations, and reduce the overall levels of voluntary compliance.

The FAO/ILO/IMO Document for Guidance on the Training and Certification of Fishing Vessel Personnel takes account of the Conventions and recommendations adopted by ILO and IMO and the wide practical experience of FAO in the field of training of fishing vessel personnel. It is intended to provide guidance when national training schemes and courses are instituted, amended or developed for the vocational training of any category of fishing vessel personnel. It is stressed that the additional guidance on training is complementary to, and not intended to supersede, the knowledge requirements specified in these ILO and IMO Conventions and recommendations. The Document applies to the training and certification of both small scale and industrial maritime fisheries. However, in the case of fishing vessels of less than 24 m in length or powered by main propulsion machinery of less than 750 kW propulsion power, certification is not prescribed but may be introduced at the discretion of the competent administration. It is a revision of an earlier publication to take into account the STCW-F (1995), the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and recent developments in the fishing industry.

Training programmes exist in most countries in which there is enough demand and where certification for crew is required. Difficulties arise where there is very little demand for such courses and the means and motivation to provide them are lacking. Before training institutes are set up, a thorough investigation should be made into the continuing demand, and if this is less than a given minimum (e.g. 20 graduates per year), then other methods of training should be considered, e.g. by offering courses at appropriate intervals (every 5 years), or by training in an adjacent country. The setting up of regional networks or training centres should encourage such cooperation . In countries establishing safety training programmes, and particularly in developing countries, consideration should be given to the following points:

Responsible authority

The authority responsible for training and certification has to be designated. Given the low numbers of personnel in the public service in developing countries, this responsibility might fall on services that are not normally responsible for training or education (e.g. Coast Guard, Harbour Master, Navy), or conversely it may end on the table of someone within the educational system who is normally not involved in fisheries. This may cause problems, as it requires collaboration between different administrative units and departments.

Who will be trained

Although the primary target groups are fishermen, other groups would also benefit from training such as inspectors and future trainers, fishery officers, whether acting in the capacity of extensionists or ensuring that fisheries regulations are followed, fishery protection officers, boat designers and builders, and search and rescue officers. In addition, it might be useful to provide information or courses for bankers and insurers, who in many cases have limited knowledge about fisheries and are in a difficult position to offer suitable financing or insurance schemes for fishers.

Training sites

The need for centralised facilities with radar simulators, fire fighting centres etc for training industrial fishers does not exist for artisanal fishers, for whom the training should be conducted as close to the fishers as possible, both for economic and educational reasons. Wherever possible the training should be based on a well-defined group, such as a fisher's coop, and the timing should be off-season, or during non-working hours. Quite often successful classes are conducted in the early evening in the local school.


The curriculum should be aimed at the local situation and at the level that the trainees can assimilate instruction. Educational standards in some of the developing countries are very low and illiteracy among practising fishers in rural areas is very high. This means that dissemination of material written for inspectors or small-scale fishers in developed countries, even though translated into local languages, is inappropriate. Although many fishers in remote areas may be illiterate, they are seldom innumerate, and "hands-on" training, combined with the use of pictures and common sense can render good results. Within the foreseeable future the Internet will probably become the key source of teaching material. Safety courses are already being offered on the Internet and similar training material could be developed for use in different developing countries as a teaching aid, not least because this medium is so well suited for visual presentation. This is a task that could be undertaken by the FAO, with its knowledge of local conditions in the fisheries of so many developing countries.


The number of people in the developing countries who have the maritime background to train inspectors and/or fishers is limited. Usually the harbourmaster, coast guard or fisheries extensionist is the natural choices. Yet the trainers need to be properly prepared to be able to provide the appropriate training. It is essential that mutual trust is established between the trainer and trainees, and that the training is tailored to meet the needs of each particular group. It has been pointed out that "the big boat mentality" should be avoided and the instructors should be able to empathise with the fisher and understand that it is the fisher´s problem that has to be tackled.

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