British Columbia

High-pressure herring fishery becoming safer as new generation takes the helm

As the investigation continues into the fatal sinking of a herring boat off Vancouver Island last year, a training group finds new and longtime fishing crews increasingly receptive to the offer of potentially life-saving training.

Fatal sinking of Miss Cory off Comox 1 year ago heightens risk awareness

Participants in a Fish Safe abandon-ship exercise at Comox. (Cheryl Lawson/Fish Safe)

As crews scramble to capture their quotas during the herring fishery that launched Friday on Vancouver Island's east coast, a group that promotes training for fishermen says on-board safety appears to be improving.

One year ago, one crew member died when the Miss Cory capsized and sank off Comox.

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the incident.

Fish Safe project manager Ryan Ford said a key to safety during the high-pressure herring fishery is preparation, including the right safety equipment and training drills, before heading out onto the water. (Ryan Ford/Fish Safe)

Ryan Ford, the program manager for Fish Safe B.C., said fishermen know it can be a dangerous way to make a living.

"People realize what happened last year," Ford said, referring to the Miss Cory sinking. "They know it happened in the years and the decades previous."

So, in the 10 days before the herring opening, seven Fish Safe safety advisors found plenty of interest in free training from the fishboat crews at the docks in French Creek and Comox, as well as boats anchored offshore. 

Skipper Dennis Dobrilla and crew conduct a 'man overboard' drill on Fishing Vessel Pacific Discovery. (Cheryl Lawson/Fish Safe)

The advisers, who are themselves experienced fishermen, get frequent questions about the safety equipment that is needed to comply with Transport Canada and WorkSafe rules, although Fish Safe B.C. and its Safest Catch program are not part of those agencies or enforcement.

"Our real concern is being prepared by doing drills leading up to the fishery," Ford said. "Really being able to go through the mechanics of doing the drills, working with the safety equipment."

"That's the other part of things that we're able to do and the reception to that is very, very good."

Ford said younger crew members are eager to 'soak up everything that's available' in safety and compliance training. (CHEK News)

Ford said safety is improving every year, and while fishermen of all ages are receptive, he sees a difference among workers in their 20s and 30s.

New generation more safety-conscious

"We're definitely seeing a lot of younger folks, both guys and gals out there on the water, sometimes for the first time," he said.

"I would say the younger contingent is definitely more safety oriented. They've come up in a world where seatbelts are the norm, where we have drinking and driving counterattacks."

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.