A boat capsizing that claimed the lives of two New Brunswick men last year serves as yet another example of why fishermen should be required to wear life-jackets, the Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday in a report highlighting a tragedy it says “is all-too-familiar in Canada’s commercial fishing industry.”
The board concluded that unless provincial governments and Transport Canada require life-jackets or personal flotation devices, commercial fishermen remain more likely to die if they fall overboard.
An average of 10 commercial fishermen die each year in Canada, the board said.
Commercial fishermen have long complained that life-jackets and PFDs restrict their movements and make it difficult to work with fishing gear.
“In nearly every other industry across Canada, provincial health and safety regulations set out rules to reduce the risks and promote a safe and healthy work environment. Commercial fishing, however, is not always included,” said board member Joseph Hincke.
“This needs to change. We want to see federal and provincial governments work with leaders in the fishing community to help ensure everyone can and does work safely.”
The report from the independent agency said it was an hour before sunrise on June 16, 2016, when the three crew members aboard the small fishing vessel, known only as C19496NB, started hauling in lobster traps about 240 metres off Salmon Beach in northern New Brunswick, about 11 kilometres from Bathurst.
The board said none of the men was wearing a life-jacket or PFD, “which diminished their chance of survival.”
When one of the trap lines became entangled in another fisherman’s gear, the strain pulled the right rear side of the vessel downward, and two waves broke over the deck, funnelling more than 30 centimetres of water into the boat.
As the men were about to release the line, another wave broke over the deck, the vessel flipped and all three were thrown into the cold water.
One of them, a 47-year-old Salmon Beach man, managed to climb on the vessel’s upturned hull and was later rescued, but the other two remained in the water. Police said the bodies of a 45-year-old Bathurst man and a 67-year-old man from Salmon Beach were later recovered.
“They were 240 metres offshore,” Hincke said. “There is a possibility that if they had flotation (devices) they may have been able to get to shore.”
The board issued a similar recommendation about PFDs last December when it released an investigation report into a similar accident in British Columbia.
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“The TSB considers that the implementation of explicit requirements for fishermen to wear PFDs would significantly reduce the loss of life associated with going overboard,” the most recent report said.
Hincke said fishermen have been reluctant to wear life jackets because they can be bulky and get in the way of work.
But he said PFDs have evolved and come in a range of designs that can accommodate fishermen at work.
Still, Hincke said many fishermen brush off the dangers they face on the water.
“It’s kind of a blindness to the risk,” he said. “Many of them don’t see their work as inherently dangerous.”
While Hincke said there is some movement within the fishing industry towards stronger safety measures, he said the changes aren’t happening quickly enough.
“We feel it needs to be a requirement, so we’re asking New Brunswick to mandate it.”
New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces that don’t include commercial fishing in occupational health and safety regulations.
Even still, Quebec is the only province that enforces the wearing of life jackets, Hincke said.
After fatal fishing accidents several years ago, Quebec overhauled its regulations and mandated that all lobster fishermen wear life jackets.
The province sent letters to every fishing captain with a licence and followed up with inspections aboard vessels to ensure compliance, he said.