Working with herring roe fishing crews to keep safety afloat

Fish Safe BC is reaching out to fishing crews to talk about vessel stability, PFD regulations, and the importance of planning for emergencies. 

Photo of two fishing vessels on the water

Photo credit: Fish Safe BC/Cheri Hansen

On March 6, 2017 — the first day of B.C.’s herring roe fishery — a crew member died when a seine fishing vessel capsized and sank in the waters off Comox. (Read more about the incident in this news story from My Comox Valley Now.)

Vessel instability on the water is one of the main safety challenges for the herring roe fishery, says Ryan Ford, program manager of Fish Safe BC. Transport Canada requires all vessels more than 9 metres in hull length to do a stability assessment. WorkSafeBC requires all vessels to have on board readily accessible and easy-to-understand documentation on vessel characteristics, including stability. Plus, owners have to ensure that any major modifications made to the vessel don’t adversely affect its stability.

“What you’re trying to do is make sure that fishermen are working together as a team to understand the stability issues and stability limitations of their particular vessels,” Ryan says. “Situations and risks tend to escalate very quickly. It’s very important to have really good, prearranged communication methods between crew members.”

Walking the docks to talk about safety

The Fish Safe team is walking the docks to talk with crew members before the 2020 herring roe fishery opens in B.C. in March. They’re visiting fishing crews in French Creek, Deep Bay, and Comox to talk about immersion suits, PFDs, risk assessment, and planning for emergencies. Some have been taking part in immersion suit safety drill contests. Ideally, it takes less than a minute to don an immersion suit, Ryan says.

“We help fishermen go through their drills and talk about the risks. They need to make sure they’ve got a plan for how they will manage those risks before they encounter an emergency out there on the water,” Ryan says. “Have they discussed what they will do in a situation where they begin to have an emergency? Do they understand how they will communicate with all members of the fishing crew?”

They’re also reminding crew members about the new PFD regulations to improve safety on fishing vessels. As of June 3, 2019, all crew members must wear PFDs or lifejackets whenever they are on the deck of a fishing vessel. (For full details, see WorkSafeBC’s Regulatory amendment: A primer on personal flotation devices and lifejackets.)

For more resources, see Fish Safe’s Seine Roe Herring Best Practices. Also see WorkSafeBC’s bulletin Fishing vessel stability: Reducing the risk of capsizing and lives lost and other resources on the Fishing & other marine industry webpage.

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