Transportation Safety Board calls for greater attention to safety in commercial fishing

The Transportation Safety Board says commercial fishing continues to be one of Canada's most dangerous occupations. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Transportation Safety Board says commercial fishing continues to be one of Canada's most dangerous occupations. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is calling for greater attention to safety on commercial fishing vessels as the industry remains one of the most dangerous in the country.

Over the last two decades, there has been an average of nearly a dozen deaths per year. The most recent was Christian Atwood, who went overboard from a lobster boat on Boxing Day off Cape Sable Island, N.S..

The TSB is investigating that case.

Glenn Budden, senior marine investigator for the organization, said there have been some improvements over the past few years, such as subsidies to buy safety equipment, but he'd like to see more done.

"We see the industry moving in the right direction, just not fast enough," Budden said. "And we still see some gaps there that need to be addressed."

Number of fatalities for Canadian-flag fishing vessels, 1999-2021

He said the vast majority of fatalities on commercial fishing vessels are preventable.

The stability of a vessel needs to be continually assessed, and equipment such as emergency signal devices on board and personal locator beacons can mean the difference between life and death, said Budden.

The lack of personal flotation devices accounts for nearly half of all commercial fishing deaths, he said.

"It's basic, life-saving equipment," said Budden. "Guys go to work and have steel-toed boots and hard hats and it's mandatory. You don't even get on the work site without that equipment. But in the fishing industry, for some reason it seems to be OK not to go to work on the water without a PFD."

The board has issued a number of recommendations for improving conditions, and there are legally binding regulations for safety measures in the industry.

But there needs to be increased oversight and enforcement of these regulations for further change to happen, Budden said.

Education, awareness

He'd also like to see more safety education and awareness and more communication between industry and regulatory bodies.

"Unfortunately, it takes a fatality in this small fishing community to open up everybody's eyes and start to use the safety equipment that's available or to purchase the safety equipment that's required," said Budden.

A former fisher himself, he said there's often a culture of the catch coming before safety.

"If I had any message for the fish harvesters — think of your family, think of your community and take the necessary steps to try and protect yourself."

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