The union that represents fishermen in B.C. is backing a call to make PFDs mandatory on commercial fishing vessels, following an investigation into a fatal fishing accident off Vancouver Island last year.
Only one of the four crew members on board the Caledonian survived when it capsized and sank in September, 2015. He was also the only one wearing a personal flotation device.
The Transportation Safety Board report into the incident released yesterday found 70 per cent of fishing fatalities in British Columbia occur when workers are not wearing PFDs.
The president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union Kim Olsen says some fishermen don't wear PFDs because the devices can get caught in nets and gear — but the culture is changing.
"It was a tough message years ago, but the guys are picking up on it now and we're seeing a lot more PFDs," said Olsen.
Olsen said tragedies also tend to raise awareness and change attitudes.
"People sit up and take notice for sure. We know they save lives," said Olsen.
Any day is risky on the ocean
The current regulations only require commercial crews to wear PFDs when risk is identified.
But the report noted the Caledonian capsized on a calm, clear day when a heavy load of fish and other factors caused it to list to one side.
No distress calls or emergency signals were ever activated. The boat sank six hours later with the loss of three lives.
Yesterday TSB Chairperson Kathy Fox called on Worksafe BC and Transport Canada to make personal flotation devices mandatory any time crews are on deck — and find a way to enforce the rule.
"You never know when you could end up in the water," she said. "Let's be clear, all fishermen should be wearing a PFD. It's that simple."
Steve Spencer, the president of Pacific Seafood which owned the Caledonian, declined to comment on whether it now requires PFDs on its vessels, but said he's confident the TSB report will improve safety.
"We are committed to safety, and we are confident the TSB's report will help improve safety for all the fishermen and their families who brave the sea every day," he said in a statement.