Safety in the Fish Harvesting Industry

Presentation to Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters–General Assembly
Kathy Fox, Board Member
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Vancouver, British Columbia
6 February 2012

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Slide 1: Title Page

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about ways we can advance safety in the fish harvesting industry.

As many of you are aware, the TSB's Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada is due for release this spring. It addresses exactly today's important topic: safety in the fish harvesting industry. However, I need to make it clear that because the SII isn't final, I can't be too specific in today's presentation. I'll tell you what I can, but there will nonetheless be areas/topics that I can only discuss generally. These topics will be addressed in detail once the SII is released.

Slide 2: TSB 101

I'll start with some background. The Transportation Safety Board is an independent government organization. We do not report to the Minister of Transport or the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Our mandate is to advance transportation safety in the air, marine, rail and pipeline modes by investigating selected transportation occurrences and reporting on them publically. Our goal is to find out what happened, why, and if necessary make recommendations to prevent it from happening again.

However, despite our mandate, the TSB does not “carry a stick.” We cannot require government or industry to address our concerns, nor can we force them to enact any changes we recommend. We are investigators, not regulators.

Slide 3: A Few Statistics

Since our formation in 1990, we have released more than 370 investigation reports into fishing vessel accidents, and made 42 recommendations. In recent years, a good portion of our Marine Branch investigations involved fishing vessels, and their names may sound familiar:

Also, in 2011, we began three new fishing investigations, and released one more.

Slide 4: The (Biggest) Issues

Every accident is different, because the circumstances are always unique. Over the years our investigators began to see troubling patterns, ones which had been highlighted in the past:

I like this picture because it tends to get people's attention. And while the traps shown here may not weigh much individually, there are a number of safety issues potentially at play.

If, for example, a vessel capsized due to stability-related causes, we'd address the issue of stability. However, that one issue can have many contributing factors:

  • The operator's knowledge and stability training.
  • How was that stability training delivered?
  • Was the crew aware of the stability information?
  • Had the vessel been modified? Or did anyone know the vessel was modified?
  • Were stability risks traded for economic gain or to meet the requirements of fisheries resource management?
  • Was the operator tired? or
  • Did the lifesaving appliances work as intended?

All of these things are inter-related, and each can play a role.

Slide 5: Previous Recommendations

To address these problems, the TSB put forth recommendations, almost always addressed to Transport Canada. Sometimes, these issues were addressed satisfactorily. Other times, however, not enough was done to eliminate the safety deficiency. And even today–there are some recommendations that are still outstanding.

Slide 6: Origin of Watchlist / SII

We also review our Recommendations regularly, and in doing so the Board became concerned that the statistics were not improving. For example, the numbers of fishermen and active fishing vessels have recently declined, but there is no corresponding decline in Canada's fatal accident rate, or our fatality rate. In other words, despite the fishing community's efforts to save lives, the likelihood of someone dying in a fishing vessel accident this year is the same as in previous years, roughly one a month. There was a bit of a dip in 2009-10, but TSB statisticians say that small drop is not significant and falls within the normal fluctuation between years. In fact, fatalities for 2011 are up to 11 …showing almost one per month again.

This pattern led us to open what we call a Class-4 investigation–the SII. We also added the issue to our inaugural safety Watchlist, a document that highlights the nine transportation issues posing the biggest risk to Canadians.

Slide 7: SII Process

And now, I'd like to give you an update on the SII:
We started in August 2009 with the announcement of the SII and a call for help from industry. The first phase–data collection–involved consultations with fishermen across the country

Separate debriefings were held with others in the fishing community to capture the impact fishermen's observations might have on policies and procedures of other fishing community members. The consultation questions were open-ended and asked participants to identify:

  • how fishermen recognize, evaluate, apply, and promote safety information;
  • things that get in the way of fishermen taking these actions; and
  • opportunities for current and future fishing community members to promote and support safety practices through good seamanship.

We then analyzed transcripts of all consultations to identify action that had an effect on fishing vessel safety. Here are just a few of them.

Slide 8: SII Process (continued)

Actions that had a negative–and a positive–impact on safety were identified. In fact, we identified over 100 of these actions. Here are just a few.

Slide 9: SII Process (continued)

So, in late 2010 we began the “data validation”q> phase: the TSB reviewed research, government publications, regulations, responses to TSB recommendations, and trade literature to better understand the context of the safety-affecting actions that had been identified. Subject Matter Experts were consulted to explain Fisheries Management Plans, harvesting details, and training programs. Where possible, TSB accident reporting data was analyzed to further assess the prevalence of the safety-affecting action.

Once validated, these were categorized into 10 safety issues. A safety goal was defined for each safety issue. The extent to which the fishing practices and fishing community policies and procedures contributed to or prevented the achievement of that goal was assessed. Gaps where further safety action is required, either in terms of fishing practices or community procedures and policies, have been identified.

Slide 10: What We Learned

In doing all of this, here is what we discovered: Absolutely none of these 10 issues exists on its own. Just as there's almost never just one single cause to an accident. Everything is interconnected.

Whereas previously, the TSB and fishing community tended to address a single issue on its own, in isolation, today we recognize that every accident is a complex event, all aspects of which need to be understood. As well, we recognized that the fishing community is complex and the actions of one member can cause reactions among others.

Good things are happening as well, and strides are being made in enhancing fishing safety whenever some party seizes the initiative and, in cooperation with others, engages fishermen in the process.

Slide 11: What's Next?

Real interest was generated during the consultations resulting in some 600 representations! The industry has embraced the need for safety action, which can only help make this report better.

We are now in the process of finalizing the safety action required to fill the identified gaps and figuring out how best to get the word out there. Once again, we will be counting on you, the fishing community, to spread the safety information.

Slide 12: Coming Soon: Action

I want to talk briefly about what people can expect to find in the report. Again, however, I cannot give you specifics–not until the report is made public.

Yes, the report will almost certainly contain some suggestions for future action. (It may be a formal Board recommendation, but at this point it's too early to say.) These issues aren't going away, and action is needed to address them. Regulations alone are not enough. Cooperative decision-making must seek consensus and be transparent to all affected parties. Together with the identification, adoption and promotion of safe operating procedures and practices, the fishing community must work together to improve training and awareness within a regulatory framework. All of this in unison will help create a shift in the industry's safety culture and improve the safety for all those who earn their living from the sea.

Slide 13: Conclusions

The report will be out later this spring, and as many of the people here have seen a draft copy, the issues it identifies are no real surprise. Many of these issues have long been known in the fish harvesting industry:

But there have been other issues that have been highlighted more in this report than ever before.

And what's become even clearer is that the fishing community is a complex environment including government at both the federal and provincial levels, industry associations, service providers, families, trainers, processors, and the fishermen themselves. Everyone needs to work together to tackle these issues. Fortunately, the industry seems to be embracing that idea. And so any safety action that industry takes, any recommendations that the TSB makes going forward, will have to be addressed in a coordinated manner, by everyone here. Thank you.

Slide 14: Canada Wordmark