We need a sea change

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial -

It’s an un­for­tu­nate eighth an­niver­sary. Last 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.

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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