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News conference for the release of Marine investigation M16A0140: Opening remarks

Joe Hincke
Board member
Moncton, New Brunswick
26 July 2017

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Joe Hincke

Good morning.

Early on the morning of June 16, 2016—almost an hour before sunrise—a small fishing vessel capsized just 240 meters off the coast of Salmon Beach, New Brunswick.

The crew was hauling up lobster traps when one of the lines became entangled in another fisherman's gear. The strain pulled the right rear side of the vessel downward, reducing the freeboard. As the crew all worked in this area to try and haul up the trap and untangle the line, two waves broke over the deck, adding more than a foot of water inside. Then, just after the master ordered the line released, a final wave broke over the side and the vessel capsized.

The three crewmembers on board were thrown into the cold water. None wore a lifejacket or personal floatation device, but one of them managed to climb onto the overturned vessel, where he waited, shouting for help in the darkness until another vessel passed nearby. He was the only survivor.

This kind of tragedy is all-too-familiar in Canada's commercial fishing industry, where an average of 10 fishermen die each year. Yes, fishing can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, but 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. This needs to change.

That's why today, the TSB is recommending that the government of New Brunswick, along with WorkSafeNB—the body that oversees and implements provincial Occupational Safety and Health regulations—require the wearing of a suitable PFD at all times when on the deck of a commercial fishing vessel, no matter its size, and that WorkSafeNB ensure programs are developed to confirm compliance.

Last December, during the release of an investigation report into a similar accident in British Columbia, the TSB recommended that Transport Canada and WorksafeBC do the same. Drowning, after all, is the number one cause of death in Canada's fishing industry, and there are steps at both levels of government that need to be taken to make sure PFDs are worn. Because, as the TSB has stated on multiple occasions, you never know when you could end up in the water.

To keep tragic fishing accidents like this one from happening over and over again, what's needed is cooperation. We want to see federal and provincial governments work with leaders in the fishing community, to help ensure everyone can and does work safely. In some areas of the country, for example British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, this is already being done. Hopefully, it won't be long until they are joined by New Brunswick—working together with their fishing industry and Transport Canada—to find safer ways to get the job done. The mandatory wearing of PFDs is a good first step, one which should help prevent more deaths in an industry that already sees too many. As per the TSB's normal process regarding recommendations, we expect to hear from the province within 90 days, and we'll be watching closely for their views on how they intend to address the issue.