Commercial fishers should wear life-jacket when on deck: TSB head

Lone survivor of 2015 capsizing was only one wearing a vest

RICHMOND, B.C. (CP) — The federal government should look at the success of seatbelt laws when it considers a recommendation that would require commercial fishermen to wear a life-jacket at all times while on deck, the head of the Transportation Safety Board says.

The recommendation to make life-jackets mandatory was part of a report released Dec. 13 into the deadly capsizing of a 30-metre fishing trawler last year off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

``There was a time when it was OK to drive a car and not wear a seatbelt,'' Kathy Fox said following a news conference in suburban Vancouver.

``Regulations came in requiring it and now many people, if not all, would probably say even if there wasn't a regulation they would still wear it.''

Three men died and one survived when the Caledonian turned over and sank shortly after it loaded what was to be its final haul of hake on Sept. 5, 2015. The person who survived was also the only one wearing a personal flotation device.

``Habits have to change,'' Fox said, describing the regulation as a necessary push in the right direction.

``You never know when you could end up in the water,'' she added. ``So let's be clear: All fishermen need to wear a PFD. And if making it mandatory is what it takes, then that's what the regulators need to do.''

The board also wants all commercial fishing vessels, both large and small, to undergo a stability assessment.

The board's investigation determined the Caledonian overturned because its stability was compromised thanks to the way fuel and fish were stored on board, which was different than when it was originally assessed in 1976.

The report also highlighted the risk of ``weight creep,'' which it described as a tendency for boats to become heavier over the years, whether from modifications, saturated insulation or extra gear.

Transport Canada said new legislation that comes into effect in July would require stability assessments on all new small fishing vessels, as well as some existing ones.

But an email from department spokesman Daniel Savoie made no mention of amendments to life-jacket regulations.

``Transport Canada strongly encourages everyone to wear a life-jacket or a PFD when on or near the water,'' Savoie wrote.

The safety board's report singled out WorkSafeBC, which also plays a role in regulating the fishing industry on the West Coast. It recommended the provincial safety agency implement the same PFD requirements.

A WorkSafeBC spokeswoman said the agency takes the board's suggestion seriously and will respond within 30 days.

Pacific Seafood, the company that owned the Caledonian, said it appreciated the board's comprehensive investigation.

``We are confident the TSB's report will help improve safety for all the fishermen and their families who brave the sea every day,'' said Steve Spencer, president of the company's Canadian wing.

Ryan Ford of Fish Safe, a health and safety association for commercial fishermen in B.C., said the organization strongly supports the recommendations.

Fishermen have historically opposed wearing personal flotation devices because they were considered cumbersome safety hazards that could snag on equipment, Ford said. But technology has drastically reduced that risk, he said.

``The benefits of wearing PFDs while working far outweigh the discomfort,'' he said. But it would still take time and effort to reverse a belief that is inherent to the culture of commercial fishing, Ford added.

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