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World at work: Fish processing workers
  1. M F Jeebhay1,
  2. T G Robins2,
  3. A L Lopata3
  1. 1Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  2. 2Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan, USA
  3. 3Allergology Unit, Department of Immunology, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M F Jeebhay
 Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, Room 4.44, Fourth Level, Falmouth Building, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, South Africa;

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Spotlight on a growth industry

The fishing and fish processing industry has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. In 1990 the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that the number of people engaged in fishing, aquaculture, and related activities worldwide doubled to 28.5 million from 1970.1 Among these workers 52% worked aboard fishing trawlers, 32% were involved in aquaculture production (marine and freshwater), and 16% worked inland as capture fishers or in other land based activities such as processing. Ninety five per cent of these workers were from developing countries, producing 58% of the 98 million tons of world fish. Increased levels of production and processing of seafood have led and continue to lead to more frequent reporting of occupational health problems such as asthma among fish processing workers.2 These occupational health problems result in increased incapacity and absenteeism among affected workers, with women more affected as a result of differences in physical exposures and psychosocial work environments.3,4


The fishing industry in South Africa employs approximately 30 000 workers in direct employment in more than 100 workplaces and 60 000 workers in related jobs, supplying food for the entire Southern African sub-region. Labour in this industry tends to be divided along gender lines, with men almost exclusively going out to sea to catch the fish and women doing the majority of on-land processing. A large proportion (62%) of the workforce in fish processing plants is female and at least one third of the workforce is employed on a seasonal basis by the industry. In 1999, the total harvest of seafood amounted to 571 924 tons, among which bony fish such as anchovy, hake, and pilchard are the most common seafood processed. This was confirmed in a recent postal survey in which 76% of all seafood processing …

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