Stuart MacLean says it was a particularly dark event that helped spark a culture change when it comes to safety in the fishing industry: the sinking of the Miss Ally.

Five young men from southwest Nova Scotia were lost at sea when their fishing boat was hammered by a raging storm in 2013. The incident gripped fishing villages everywhere, and MacLean, CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, believes it had a dramatic effect on the way fishermen approach safety today.

"What's happened in that sector is people have moved from knowing about it to caring about it," he said.

"And I think what people said is, 'It's not OK to keep losing people at sea.'"

'Undeniable change'

That progress manifested in a 20-per cent decrease in assessment rates for the industry for 2018. Costs are down 39 per cent since 2015, when a strategic plan was introduced to enhance and promote safety on board vessels with the help of all industry players, said MacLean.

"We're seeing undeniable change. They have the lowest rates that they've paid in the last 20 years."

It's all the more remarkable, he said, when one considers that it wasn't that long ago most people didn't believe fishermen would be willing to change generations-old practices.

People started to understand

But change they did, and efforts such as man-overboard drills and promotion and awareness campaigns right at the wharf had a lot to do with it.

Amanda Dedrick, executive director of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia, has seen the progress first-hand.

"When we first started, people were hesitant," she said. "They didn't understand what we were doing and why we were doing it."

Now Dedrick gets requests for man-overboard drills and communities invite her association back for more. To date, 105 of the drills have been offered.

Going where the fishermen are

She gives all the credit to the industry for putting that information into practice.

Leonard Leblanc of the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board said one of the biggest factors was bringing the programs to the fishermen where they live and work rather than making them travel.

The courses, along with advances in safety gear designed specifically for fishing, have helped make safety a priority and no longer a source of ridicule, he said.

18 months without a death

Leblanc's group recently purchased $1.3 million in safety equipment for fishermen in the Gulf — all part of an effort to make sure people have the things they need on board to stay safe and they know how to use them in an emergency.

"The only thank you we wanted was to see them wearing it and it's happening."

Perhaps the most telling statistic of how the efforts are paying off is that it's been about 18 months since a fisherman was lost to sea, said Leblanc.

"It's amazing and it's a good feeling."