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Fishers walk out of meeting with Transport Canada

The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association joined other industry groups in working out of a recent Halifax meeting with Transport Canada.

The 15 industry groups were calling on the federal department to help develop a comprehensive and timely implementation plan to assist the commercial fishing industry to effectively comply with the new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations that come into force in July. Transport Canada officials indicated during the meeting no such plan is in the works.

“The remaining timeline does not allow for fish harvesters to be properly informed, particularly in consideration that this requires such a massive investment of time, resources and financial commitment from harvesters,” says Laura Ramsay, liaison officer for the association.

A statement issued on behalf of the organizations indicates Transport Canada told the meeting the 260 inspectors that enforce the regulations have yet to be trained and the department communication plan has yet to be finalized and delivered.

With less than 120 days until the measures come into force, the organizations are worried many of their 20,000 collective independent owner operators will be forced into noncompliance and bear the full liability, while Transport Canada proposes a “soft enforcement” approach to compliance.

“This is a trap. If someone has an accident, ‘soft enforcement’ will not be a defence of liability before a court of law,” says Leonard Leblanc, president of Gulf NS Fishermen’s Coalition.

Keith Sullivan, president of FFAW-Unifor in Newfoundland and Labrador, says, “Fish harvesters, both owner-operators and crew members, deserve more from Transport Canada. A more reasonable phase-in approach, allowing harvesters adequate time to comply, would be much more successful in gaining support from the industry and achieving our goal of improved safety. With the clock ticking, industry representatives are calling on the minister to assist in finding a meaningful solution.”

Melanie Sonnenberg, president of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation, says, “The Industry is fully supportive of safety. After repeated attempts to engage Transport Canada in a comprehensive implementation strategy, the industry organizations are being forced to take other measures to protect the interest of their membership.”