SEA-NL calls for public inquiry into fishing vessel safety, search and rescue

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is calling for a joint, federal/provincial commission of inquiry into fishing vessel safety, and search and rescue response in this province to investigate why incidents and deaths at sea are on the rise.

“There is no greater indictment of serious, systemic problems with fishing vessel safety and search and rescue than the rise in mariner deaths,” says Ryan Cleary, SEA-NL’s Executive Director.

“Fishing is already one of the most dangerous occupations in the world without lax government oversight increasing those risks.”

SEA-NL recommends that an inquiry into fishing vessel safety and search and rescue in the province investigate from four fronts — fisheries management, Transport Canada regulations, safety at sea, and search and rescue.

“The Transportation Safety board has been reporting on commercial fishing deficiencies for the last three decades and it’s been on their watchlist for 12 years, and every year the same safety deficiencies aboard fishing vessels continue to put the lives of thousands of harvesters at risk,” says Merv Wiseman, a member of SEA-NL’s executive board, and advocate for vessel safety and search and rescue.

The Transportation Safety Board released an investigative report this week into the 2020 sinking of the fishing vessel Sarah Anne in Placentia Bay, which claimed the lives of four south coast fishermen.

The report found that the vessel hadn’t been inspected since its construction in 1980, 40 years before. The investigation also found that the boat had been operating outside its safe operating limits, which the skipper and crew had no way of knowing.

“The fact that more than 4,000 small boats from the under 35’ fleet are registered with Fisheries and Oceans than with Transport Canada screams that fishery management regulations have taken precedence over fishing safety,” said Wiseman. “The Government of Canada has lost its way in that regard.”

SEA-NL has warned that trip limits and fishing schedules in the ongoing snow crab fishery can pressure owner-operators to fish in dangerous conditions, and are an accident waiting to happen.

“Owner-operators often find themselves fishing in dangerous conditions,” said Wiseman. “They should never be pressured into those dangerous conditions.”

SEA-NL will make a formal written request to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Andrew Furey for a commission of inquiry with the power to subpoena witnesses, take evidence under oath, and request documents.

Between 2018 and 2020 there were 45 harvester fatalities on fishing vessels of all sizes and all types of occurrences — the highest fatality count in a three-year period in more than 20 years.

Contact Ryan Cleary: 682 4862