The year 2020 is nearly in the rearview mirror.

Feel free to take a moment and let out a collective sigh of relief here.

Who knows what 2021 has in store for us, but could it possibly be any more strange, troubling or unprecedented than the last 12 months?

This past year will go down in history as one of the most turbulent for the fishery in Southwest Nova Scotia. Not only was the industry rocked by the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the self-regulated, moderate livelihood lobster fishery by First Nations led to protests, disputes and dissention across the breadth of the Nova Scotia fishing community.

While these very important issues are still present and will certainly be carried over into 2021, it is even more important for all lobster fishing area (LFAs) 33–34 harvesters to maintain their composure and focus as the all-important, six-month lobster season is now underway. With all of the distractions circulating these days, fishermen cannot lose sight of the most important thing on the water — safety.

Catching tonnes of lobster will not mean a thing unless every crewmember returns home to port safely after every trip.

Just a month before the start of the massive LFA 33–34 lobster fishery, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its Watchlist 2020.

For 10 years, the TSB Watchlist has put the spotlight on key safety issues and actions needed to make Canada’s transportation system, including the fishing industry, even safer. This year, the Watchlist identified eight key safety issues that require government and industry attention that are the result of hundreds of investigations, compelling findings and data and active TSB recommendations. Basically, a tired crewmember is not a safe crewmember.

“In these unprecedented times, the transportation industry, and the entire country, is faced with many challenges. While recognizing the hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the TSB’s focus on safety remains the same” the organization stated.

Right at the top of the TSB’s 2020 Watchlist was its continuing concerns with safety in the commercial fishery across the country.

“Progress on safety has been slow, sporadic and localized. After 10 years of being on the Watchlist, TSB reports continue to identify the same unsafe conditions: poor knowledge of a vessel’s stability limits, failure to carry essential lifesaving equipment and failure to wear a personal flotation device.”

Fishermen are still dying each year in the job from accidents caused by identifiable and fixable problems. Distractions and a lackadaisical approach to safety continue to be a recipe for disaster and tragedy.

The TSB also pointed yet again that crewmember fatigue remains one of the most pervasive issues on the Watchlist because of its potential to degrade several aspects of human performance. 

“Will fixing these transportation safety issues be easy? Of course not,” noted the TSB. “Government and industry stakeholders still need to work together — more than they already are and in new and different ways. We will continue to monitor these issues, reporting progress as it happens and bring attention where needed. Canadians from coast to coast to coast can count on it.”

According to the latest statistics, in 2019, 267 marine accidents were reported to the TSB, down from the 2018 total of 289 and below the 10-year (2009–2018) average of 298. In 2019, the proportion of shipping accidents (as opposed to accidents aboard ship) was 78 per cent of marine accidents, below the previous 10-year average of 83 per cent.

There were 207 shipping accidents in 2019, down from the 2018 total of 232 and down 16 per cent from the 2009–2018 average of 247. The majority of shipping accidents involved fishing vessels (29 per cent), followed by solid-cargo vessels (27 per cent).

In 2019, 17 marine fatalities were reported, down from the 22 fatalities reported in 2018, but above the annual average of 15.2 in the 2009–2018 time period. Of these 17 fatalities, four were the result of three shipping accidents, while the remaining 13 fatalities resulted from 10 accidents aboard ship.

Of note, none of the four shipping accident fatalities in 2019 involved a commercial fishing vessel, although 8 of the 13 fatalities that ensued from accidents aboard ship did occur aboard commercial fishing vessels. The total of eight fishing vessel fatalities in 2019 was below the annual average of 10.2 in the 2009–2018 time period.

However, three additional fishing-related fatalities resulted from two shipping accidents and one additional fishing-related fatality resulted from an accident aboard ship (the three accidents involved vessels that were not commercial fishing vessels). Therefore, 12 of the 17 marine fatalities in 2019 were fishing related. The data indicates that more needs to be done to improve safety in the commercial fishing industry.

Serious injuries in 2019 totalled 53, down from 61 in 2018 and similar to the annual average of 50 from 2009 to 2018. Forty-three of the 53 serious injuries (81 per cent) resulted from accidents aboard ship, and the remaining 10 resulted from shipping accidents.