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Editorial: We need a sea change

Fishing boats at St. John’s harbour Wednesday. Many fishermen are doubtful owner-operator and fleet separation policies can be enforced enough to be effective.
Fishing boats in St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

It’s an unfortunate eighth anniversary.

This week, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) pointed out — for the eighth year in a row — that Canada’s fishing industry remains an unacceptably dangerous place to work.

“Every year, safety deficiencies onboard fishing vessels continue to put at risk the lives of thousands of Canadian fish harvesters and the livelihoods of their families and communities. Various initiatives have sparked the development of a safety culture within the industry, but progress has been slow, sporadic, and localized,” the board wrote in its annual watch list. “The fishing industry — in Canada as abroad — has long registered disproportionately large numbers of accidents and fatalities. Since 1992, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has made 48 recommendations to address safety deficiencies, 13 (27 per cent) of which are still outstanding.”

From 2011 to 2017, there were 63 fishing fatalities, an average of nine deaths a year. These are statistics that hit painfully close to home in this province.

TSB investigations found that “nearly 43 per cent of those fatalities were due to falling overboard.”

Another concern? Stability. In all, more than one third of the deaths resulted from accidents involving the stability of fishing vessels — often, vessels that had undergone significant structural changes that affected the way they reacted to storm and wave action. Often, the board has found that the effect of those changes on the seaworthiness of vessels was not properly analyzed before they went back into the water.

From 2011 to 2017, there were 63 fishing fatalities, an average of nine deaths a year. These are statistics that hit painfully close to home in this province.

The board also pointed out that in 80 per cent of fatalities, they were unable to determine that fishers were wearing personal floatation devices or survival suits. Also, in almost half of the fatalities, the vessels involved did not send emergency signals from emergency locating devices.

The board says that developing a safety culture throughout the industry concerning those two issues alone — vessel stability and safety equipment — would substantially reduce the unacceptable number of deaths in the fishing industry.

“Addressing these two safety deficiencies would contribute to a significant reduction in the number of fishing-related fatalities given the number of deaths currently associated with falling overboard or stability/capsizing events.”

And remember, the watch list is only talking about fatalities. Some of the same issues arise in when vessels sink and in other accidents where crewmembers are injured. Other incidents occur where the damage involved is limited to the vessels themselves.

Fishing has always been a dangerous industry — the sea, the unpredictability of the weather and the sheer hard work of the labour all add to the dangers. The best thing the industry can do is to make sure that every single dangerous variable that can be controlled, is controlled.

It would be excellent if the fishing industry could become safe enough that it would no longer be on the Transportation Safety Board’s watch list.

Chances are, though, that next year it will be on the list again.

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