Too many small boats capsize, too many fisherman die.
That’s the message coming from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB). Over the last five years, 60 people have died in accidents involving small fishing vessels, about one person per month, and the agency is launching an investigation to find out why. “This is a very viable opportunity to improve safety for all workers who earn their living from the sea,” says Brian Lewis, senior marine investigator with the TSB. “We want them to come home safely every time.”
The most common causes of death among fishermen are fires, collisions, groundings and capsizing. The accidents are usually due to a lack of life-saving equipment, and faulty or improperly maintained gear. A typical accident befell the Sea Urchin, a small fishing boat, in 2007. It was returning from a coast guard exercise off the coast of Newfoundland when it rolled over in high wind and choppy seas. The three men aboard were thrown into the water, and the boat’s owner died the next day in hospital. A TSB report found the lightly loaded vessel to be unstable and unfit for such weather.
The recently launched investigation is the first study of its kind in Canada, and will have TSB officials interviewing fishermen, families, unions and government officials to find out what turned previous voyages deadly. The Maritime Fishermen’s Union’s Ruth Inniss agrees that too many fishermen are dying, but says the problems go beyond what can be solved through TSB recommendations. Fishermen tend to do everything they can to cut costs, she says, and safety practices are often ignored if they reduce profit. Stronger enforcement is the solution, she says, along with better regional regulations. “Fishermen, in general, are risk takers,” she adds. But “one death is one death too many.”