Working together for safer prawn fishing

ISSN 2369-873X

25 September 2013
Posted by: Glenn Budden

During the 2012 prawn fishing season, we saw the loss of two vessels, the Pacific Siren and the Jessie G. In both cases, the vessels were loaded with prawn gear and traveling to fruitful fishing grounds off the B.C. coast. The Jessie G was rounding Cape Beale and the Pacific Siren was crossing the Hecate Strait when the vessels rolled to starboard. They were unable to recover and sank.

Effects of unsafe prawn fishing practices

The cumulative effects of environmental and unsafe working conditions affected the vessels’ stability, and played a large role in both accidents. Remarkably, everybody on board survived.

Investigator Glenn Budden onboard the prawn fishing
vessel Jessie G
Image of Glenn Budden onboard the prawn fishing vessel Jessie G

The TSB investigated both accidents, and found a number of risks—all of them fixable.

At the TSB, our mandate is to advance safety. One of our goals is to find out what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done so that it doesn’t happen again.

Prawn fishing accidents highlight unsafe trend

These two prawn fishing accidents are part of a larger trend in fishing safety, an issue that the TSB has been concerned about for a long time. In fact, between 1999 and 2010, we investigated more than 2,500 fishing related accidents, leading to 42 recommendations since 1992. In 2012, we released a special Safety Issues Investigation that identified ten key issues where immediate action was required:

  • Stability
  • Fisheries resource management
  • Lifesaving appliances
  • Regulatory approach to safety
  • Training
  • Safety information
  • Cost of safety
  • Fatigue
  • Fishing industry statistics
  • Work practices

What we learned is that addressing these issues one-by-one doesn't work. Stability, training, resource management, safe work practices—the complex relationship and interdependency among safety issues must be recognized and addressed together.

But no matter how many investigations we do or recommendations we make, it is still up to industry to take action. We can’t force people to adopt safe practices.

Industry collaboration following prawn fishing accidents

That’s why we were so pleased by what happened after these two tragic prawn fishing accidents in B.C.

Traps on board a prawn fishing vessel
Image of the traps on board a prawn fishing vessel

Shortly after the occurrences, and even before the investigations had been completed, the TSB met with BC’s FishSafe Advisory Committee and the Prawn Sectorial Committee. We presented them with preliminary information, and encouraged them to follow in the footsteps of the ‘Food and Bait Herring’ fishermen by developing best practices for prawn fishing.

The Pacific Prawn Fisherman’s Association, in collaboration with FishSafe, took immediate action. By early 2013, they’d not only developed a code of best practices for prawn fishing, but they also had it approved by the Association’s board of directors and already distributed it to countless fishermen.

In addition to addressing the TSB’s findings in the two prawn fishing accidents, the code provided guidance on training, emergency drills, vessel orientation, on deck safety practices and numerous stability related best practices.

Partnerships key to improving prawn fishing safety

We all know that fishing carries risks, and so it’s exactly this kind of partnership that the TSB likes to see—people acknowledging the issues, and taking action to address them.

Ultimately, what we’d like to see is for fishermen and safety associations across the country to work together, so that all fishermen return home safely.

The prawn fishing code of best practices is available on FishSafe’s website.

Image of Glenn Budden

Glenn Budden has been a Senior Marine Investigator at the TSB since 2008. Prior to joining the TSB, Glenn owned and operated a commercial fishing business. In addition to holding a Fishing Masters II certificate, he has 35 years’ experience in the fishing industry, operating, managing and advising on several types of fishing vessels and fisheries on both coasts. Glenn has only one child left living at home full time, which gives him time to play golf again and more hockey with his wife Leslie.

Date modified: