Transportation Safety Board calls for greater attention to commercial fishing safety

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

Over the past two decades, there have been an average of nearly a dozen deaths per year. The most recent was Christian Atwood, who fell overboard from a lobster boat on Boxing Day off Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

The TSB is investigating this matter.

Glenn Budden, the organization’s senior marine investigator, said there had been some improvements in recent years, such as subsidies for the purchase of safety equipment, but he would like to see more.

« We see the industry moving in the right direction, but not fast enough, » Budden said. “And we still see gaps there that need to be filled.”

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

A vessel’s stability must be continually assessed, and equipment such as onboard emergency signaling devices and personal locator beacons can mean the difference between life and death, Budden said.

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

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

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

But there needs to be increased monitoring and enforcement of those regulations for further changes to occur, Budden said.

Education, awareness

He would also like to see more safety education and awareness and more communication between industry and regulators.

« Unfortunately, it takes a death in this small fishing community to open everyone’s eyes and start using the safety equipment available or to purchase the necessary safety equipment, » Budden said.

A former fisherman himself, he said there is often a culture of catch before safety.

« If I had a message for anglers, think of your family, think of your community and take the necessary steps to try to protect yourself. »


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