The mainstream media is filled with what seems like a tragic event almost every day.
The 24-hour news cycle is always reporting on a catastrophic bombing, flooding or plane crash in some far-flung corner of the globe. It is so commonplace today, that the average, viewer, listener or reader has almost become numb to it.
But once in a while, a tragedy occurs a little too close to home, causing one to stop, take notice and even reflect on their own well being.
Unfortunately, the fishery still happens to be one of the sources of these local tragedies.
Despite all of the safety training and equipment advances the fishing industry has made over the last few years, according to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), there is, on average, one fishery-related fatality each year in this country. Between 2009 and 2013, 40 per cent of all marine accidents were attributed to fishing vessels (approximately 134 per year) and between 1999 and 2012, an average of 13 fishing vessel fatalities were reported (16 in 2013).
According to Transport Canada, the main contributors to these accidents, incidents and fatalities include vessel stability issues (the ability of a vessel to stay upright in all operating conditions), unsafe operating practices and lack of or inadequate safety equipment (which includes firefighting and life-saving equipment).
Between 1999 and 2010, 58 per cent of deaths occurred due to stability-related accidents such as capsizing, flooding, foundering or sinking. During the same period, 27 per cent of all fishing fatalities resulted from a person falling overboard and in some cases being unable to re-board the vessel. These main causes have remained fairly consistent over time and must be addressed through efficient mitigating measures to reduce the high number of accidents, incidents and fatalities.
While these statistics are harrowing enough, it is not until you read the actual names of recent commercial fishing accident victims, does this cold, hard reality really hit home. Names such as Kenneth Hickey, age 48 of Southern Harbour, Larry Loveman, 58, of Leading Tickles, David Wareham, 42, Arnold’s Cove, Keith Stubbert, 53, North Sydney and Larry Sears, age 64 from Shag Harbour.
Transport Canada is now proposing new vessel safety regulations with the aim of making the fishery safer.
The federal regulatory agency has stated that “The lack of adequate safety equipment, vessel stability and clear vessel operational procedures onboard fishing vessels pose a significant threat to safety, rendering commercial fishing one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada.”
The changes being proposed follow 14 years of consultation with the fishing industry.
The new requirements will be based primarily on risk, regardless of size or tonnage. Fishing vessels operating farthest from shore would be required to have more safety items than ones operating closer to shore.
All fishing vessels will be required to enhance safety procedures, fire fighting and lifesaving equipment.
Owners will be allowed to select from a variety of safety options — from fire extinguishers to life-rafts, life buoys, buoyant lines and immersion suits — depending on where the vessel operates. All new vessels over nine metres will have to meet vessel stability requirements.
Phase 1 of the proposed amendments would consist of amendments to the Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations that would update and enhance the current safety equipment and vessel stability requirements and would introduce safe operating procedures for small fishing vessels. It would also amend the name of the Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations to the Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations. Phase 1 of the proposed amendments would apply to fishing vessels that are not more than 24.4 metres in length and not more than 150 gross tonnes.
Phase 2 would update the current construction requirements for small fishing vessels and Phase 3 would introduce the requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Cape
Town Agreement (with appropriate Canadian modifications) for large fishing vessels.
It is important to note that small fishing vessels (not more than 24.4 metres in length) constitute approximately 99 per cent of the fishing fleet in Canada (approximately 20,000 fishing vessels).
This new legislation is important because the federal government is finally realizing that the regulations that govern fishing vessels are more than 40 years old and have not kept pace with industry best practices and technological developments. For example, fishing vessels are currently only required to have fire buckets and sand onboard for firefighting. In addition, only herring and capelin vessels are required to demonstrate vessel stability and there are no required safe operating procedures to help operators safely carry out their intended operations.
The group that formed this legislation has stated that the fact commercial fishing vessels are required to have a lower number of less capable equipment items and procedures than pleasure craft of similar size, despite the more hazardous area of operations and risk associated with commercial fishing illustrates how outdated these requirements are.
It is also important to note that legislators are recognizing the fact technological advancements and changes to the nature of fishing operations (e.g. vessels repurposed for multiple fisheries and vessels modified from their original designs to fish further from shore) and fluctuations in fish stocks have drastically changed the fishing industry.
This proposed legislation is a much needed move in the right direction. Let’s hope time is of the essence and it is passed into law sooner rather than later — a fisherman’s life might depend on it.
The new proposed regulations were published in the Canada Gazette on Feb. 6 and can be found at the following link: www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2016/2016-02-06/pdf/g1-15006.pdf