Lives on the line

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL -

It’s an old song. But it seems we have to keep singing it un­til some­thing changes. Two weeks ago, The Globe and Mail ran a fea­ture story on the fish­ing in­dus­try, point­ing out, as oth­ers have for years, that the in­dus­try is one of the most dan­ger­ous in Canada.

The news­pa­per mined sta­tis­ti­cal data to show just how dan­ger­ous the pro­fes­sion is: out of all pro­fes­sions in Canada, three dif­fer­ent fish­ing oc­cu­pa­tions were in the top 10 of Canada’s most dan­ger­ous.

Fish­ing ves­sel deck­hand was the sec­ond-most dan­ger­ous oc­cu­pa­tion in the coun­try. Fish­ing ves­sel skip­pers and fish­ers came in at fifth place, and aqua­cul­ture and ma­rine har­vest labour­ers ranked sixth.

If you lumped all three of the job des­ig­na­tions to­gether, with death rates at 178 deaths per 100,000 work­ers, the death rate would wildly out­strip Canada’s most dan­ger­ous oc­cu­pa­tion — chain­saw and skid­der op­er­a­tors — which has a death rate of just 81.7 deaths per 100,000 work­ers.

That fish­ing is in­her­ently dan­ger­ous is well known: com­bine heavy equip­ment, un­cer­tain and change­able weather and sea con­di­tions, hard phys­i­cal work and the need to cap­ture ev­ery avail­able dol­lar just to stay in busi­ness, and it’s easy to see the risks.

But Canada’s Trans­porta­tion Safety Board has been point­ing out for over a decade that the fish­ing in­dus­try is lag­ging be­hind even other ma­rine busi­nesses.

Things that would help? There are many. Mak­ing safety the first and most de­cid­ing fac­tor, even when it comes to things like fish­eries reg­u­la­tions, would be a start.

Dis­tin­guish be­tween dif­fer­ent fish­ing fleets based on ca­pac­ity, rather than on length, so that ves­sels can be de­signed to be as sea­wor­thy as pos­si­ble.

Make weather con­di­tions a de­cid­ing fac­tor – one of the first things con­sid­ered – for open­ing dates and for dates when fish­ers are re­quired to land their gear.

Short open­ings and fa­tigue are also an ob­vi­ous prob­lem in com­pet­i­tive fish­eries. Why not, if you have a short open­ing, spread it over a se­ries of days, so cap­tains and crew aren’t tempted to op­er­ate for days at a time with limited sleep? En­sure that owner-mod­i­fied or built ves­sels are in­spected for safety and sta­bil­ity – af­ter all, in what other busi­ness would work­place safety staff al­low pri­vate mod­i­fi­ca­tion of equip­ment and safety de­vices?

Pro­tec­tive gear – per­sonal floata­tion de­vices, im­mer­sion suits – have to fully keep the pro­fes­sion in mind, in­clud­ing the amount of move­ment and com­fort in­volved, to re­duce the ex­cuses given for not wear­ing them. That, at least, is al­ready hap­pen­ing, though some spe­cialty vests can cost as much as $400, with price mak­ing its own lim­i­ta­tions.

Those are just a few sug­ges­tions. Ev­ery­one has a part to play in mak­ing the in­dus­try safer and more re­spon­si­ble.

Un­til safety is al­ways first, fish­ers will die un­nec­es­sar­ily.

Fish­ing will al­ways be dan­ger­ous – it’s a big and un­pre­dictable ocean – but it shouldn’t be more dan­ger­ous than it has to be.

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