Language selection

Commercial fishing safety

Despite many safety initiatives, unsafe work practices continue.

 Update – What has been done

  • TSB representatives met with key stakeholders and change agents in the Atlantic region, including government officials from Prince Edward Island and New-Brunswick, as well as senior members of the Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island and WorkSafe NB, to discuss the various challenges associated with commercial fishing safety. The discussions were focused on provincial and federal responsibilities, as well as actions required to address pressing issues. Similar meetings were also held with officials and associations in British Columbia and Quebec.
  • In January 2017, the TSB Chair met with senior officials at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to discuss Watchlist issues, focusing on commercial fishing safety concerns and possible solutions to reduce risks.
  • In January 2017, Senior Investigator Glenn Budden published an article in the Western Mariner Magazine. The article focused on the investigation into the 2015 capsizing of the Caledonian on the West coast (M15P0286), which addresses the Watchlist issue of commercial fishing safety and highlights new TSB recommendations.
  • The TSB produced a fishing safety poster and distributed it to organizations on both the east and west coasts.

Why this matters

Even though the numbers of registered fishermen and active fishing vessels have declined overall since 2006, the average number of fatalities has remained constant at 10 per year.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has long sought to improve safety in commercial fishing. It issued its first recommendation on the subject in 1992, and since then has issued 41 more, seven of which remain outstanding.Footnote 1 Fishing safety has been on the Watchlist since 2010, and in 2012, the TSB released its report on its Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada.Footnote 2

Fish harvesting carries risks, but several recent investigations into fatal accidents have found a range of safety deficiencies—vessel stability, crew training, unsafe operating practices, emergency preparedness, and carriage of immersion suits and emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs)—that once addressed would reduce those risks.

The TSB’s investigations also find that many of the causal and contributory factors in an accident are systemic problems that need systemic solutions, notably

  • vessel modifications and their impact on stability;
  • the use and availability of lifesaving equipment;
  • regulatory oversight; and
  • the impact of fishery resource management plans and practices on the overall safety of fishing vessels.

It is recognized nationwide that the loss of life on fishing vessels is simply too great. Federal and many provincial regulatory authorities, as well as fishing safety associations, have been taking new safety initiatives. The first phase of the new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations, which applies only to small fishing vessels up to 24.4 m, has been published. These regulations will lower some of the risks associated with outstanding safety deficiencies, but significant gaps remain with respect to stability assessments and the guidance associated with them, as well as the carriage of EPIRBs and immersion suits.

Future phases of the regulations may address these remaining issues and also apply to fishing vessels over 24.4 m, but this work has not yet started.

 Action required

This issue will remain on the Watchlist until

  • new regulations are implemented for commercial fishing vessels of all sizes;
  • user-friendly guidelines regarding vessel stability are developed and implemented to reduce unsafe practices;
  • there is evidence of behavioural changes among fishermen regarding the use of personal flotation devices, EPIRBs, and survival suits, as well as of on-board safety drills and risk assessments being carried out; and
  • there is concerted and coordinated action by federal and provincial authorities, leaders within the fishing community, and fishermen themselves to put in place strong regional initiatives and develop a sound safety culture in the fishing community.

 Related information

 Previous Watchlists