Biological Agents

Handling the Catch

Biological agents consist of bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites and other microbiological entities. In fishing, exposure to biological agents is usually unintentional. Both live and dead catch can harbour bacteria. Handling the dead catch can result in transfer of the bacteria from the fish to the worker. Slime on both live and dead fish can also harbour biological agents.

Routes of Exposure

There are four main routes by which fishermen can be exposed to biological agents:

  1. Ingestion e.g. eating or swallowing contaminated food or liquids or not washing hands prior to eating or smoking.
  2. Inhalation e.g. breathing in infectious droplets or aerosols such as Legionella contaminated spray from a shower or Tuberculosis disease or influenza from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
  3. Absorption e.g. when infected material or fluid enters into the eye or mucous membranes such as the nose or mouth or through the skin via open wounds or broken skin.
  4. Inoculation e.g. when a sharp object such as a hook, fin, broken end of a warp or a bite punctures the skin injecting the biological agent directly into the body.

Effects of Biological Agents

Biological agents can cause three types of disease:

  1. Infections
  2. Allergies, or
  3. Poisoning or toxic effects.

Infections, especially of the hands, are the most common type in fishing. In turn, hand injuries and infections can result in accidents.

Prevent or Minimise Exposure


  • Examine the catch for any potentially dangerous fish or objects.
  • Wear gloves when handling the catch.
  • Wash out any wounds with clean water and disinfectant.
  • Where possible, do not eat in areas where the catch is handled.
  • Clean areas regularly and stow all fish guts and waste as soon as possible.
  • Ensure good personal hygiene - Athlete's foot is a fungus that thrives in warm, damp conditions and is common in fishermen.

 Consider tetanus vaccination especially where there is risk of exposure to dirty or dusty outdoor objects or rusty gear.