Capt. Andrew Titus of Mersey Seafoods sporting his personal floatation device dockside, October 2021. Contributed photo

The preparation is over and Nova Scotia’s two largest lobster fishing areas’ (LFA 33 and LFA 34) captains and crews are now catching the prized crustaceans.

For months, fishermen have been fixing gear, getting life rafts inspected, doing oil changes, arranging for bait and so much more to what some say is an endless list of things to do before the traps finally hit the water at the end of November.

On the flip side, our team is just wrapping up our “safety season.” Over the last three months, the Fish Safe NS team has placed a heavy focus on LFAs 33, 34 and 35. With LFA 35 opening in mid-October, we targeted wharves throughout this area first, visiting almost every wharf. As time passed, we slowly made our way around the southerly tip of the province working our way through LFAs 34 and 33. In total our team made it to 71 individual wharves since mid-September — an impressive feat considering that equates to almost 9,700 kilometres driven.

During each stop at these wharves, which we have branded Safety Dock Talks, we handed out free safety resources to captains and crews. This included our 2021 Wheelhouse Safety Logbook, updated safety equipment checklists, rescue throw bags, first aid kits and PFDs.

The documentation side of safety has often been looked at as a burden and in truth, it can take time to ensure you are filling everything out to meet compliance with Transport Canada or the Department of Labour. The alternative, however, can be quite costly. Overall, conversations have been positive, and many are taking safety seriously.

While our education efforts continue and focus will shift to the eastern and northern ends of the province next spring, we are taking a step back and looking where we are as an industry when it comes to safety.

Since 2012, efforts between our organization and others have reached every wharf in Nova Scotia, even reaching wharves in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. And since 2021, we’ve been singing the same song — wear your PFD, wear your PFD, wear your PFD. So why after almost a decade of hearing that same tune is there still reluctancy to wear one?

A Fish Safe NS staff member putting up a PFD sign at the Dennis Point Wharf to serve as a gentle reminder why you should wear one, October 2021. Contributed photo

In this job I meet a lot of people, which means I’ve met widowers, sons and daughters that have lost their father, parents that have lost a child. I have seen firsthand the toll it takes on a person when a loved one is lost at sea, it is an unimaginable and devasting loss — and so many could have been prevented.

I’ve also met a continuously growing list of fishermen that have survived falling overboard — and those that I have met all attribute their survival to the fact that they were wearing a personal floatation device.

Now, you can believe me when I say I’ve heard every argument and excuse when it comes to why someone does not wear a PFD — but truth be told I dismiss those arguments and excuses because they do not hold any water. There are upwards of a dozen decent options for Transport Canada-approved PFDs that the fishing industry can use, I am confident you can find one that fits and is comfortable.

As our Workers Compensation Board has said for many years, “wear it for the ones who wouldn’t know what to do without you.”

So, the message is simple, just wear your PFD. It might not be comfortable while your banding lobsters all day or while your stacking traps on deck so you can move your gear a few miles south in hopes of better catches — but a small discomfort is worth it if you know you are better protected should you ever fall overboard.

Many will say “it will never happen to me” or “I don’t need one, I am very careful on deck.” But I’ve met far too many fishermen that had that same mindset and ended up overboard. Some survived to tell the tale, far too many didn’t.

Your kids are counting on you coming home at the end of your fishing trip, so just wear a PFD.

Your parents are expecting you over for dinner after you get in, so just wear a PFD.

Your wife is waiting for you to get home from your fishing trip to give you a hug, so just wear a PFD.

Make safety a priority, if not for yourself but for the ones you love.

So just wear a PFD.

By Matthew Duffy, Fish Safe NS