MFU invests $300k in lighter life jackets to save lives

New Brunswick lobster fishermen were handed free life jackets in time for the start of the season, which are meant to be less cumbersome, with the hopes to getting more of them in the habit of wearing them.

Union is trying to get more fishermen to wear jackets after repeated fatalities at sea

Getting fishermen to wear life jackets on the job has been a constant struggle, despite repeated incidents at sea. (CBC )

New Brunswick lobster fishermen were handed free life jackets on the first day of lobster season, with the hopes of getting more of them to actually wear the life-savers.

The fishermen's union started handing out the jackets, estimated to be worth approximately $300 each, to about a thousand fishermen in Southeastern New Brunswick.

The move is an effort by the union to get its fishermen to take safety more seriously. 

Despite repeated boating accidents, some fatal, getting fishermen to wear life jackets on the job has been a constant struggle — especially when it comes to the older generation.

"It's still difficult," said  Christian Brun, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

Christian Brun of the Maritime Fishermens' Union says it's hard convincing older fishermen to wear life jackets, after decades of not wearing them. (Radio-Canada)
"You have some older harvesters that have been out there for 40 - 50 years. It's not easy to change the mindset of someone who's been out there, freely on a boat, in the summertime, just doing their job. But these incidents keep happening."

Brun says they've been working for more than a decade on improving the health and security culture with fishermen. He hopes equipping them with this lighter, inflatable design will be a step in the right direction.

"It's extremely small. It doesn't get in the way and that was the problem for the last many years," said Brun.

Mandatory in Nova Scotia

The fishermen's union doesn't have the authority to make wearing life jackets mandatory.

The province would have to legislate that, as has been done in Nova Scotia.

As he came back from setting traps Tuesday, Paulin Leger admits he and other fishermen rarely wear life jackets, but confirmed he did pick up the free one this week.

"There's not enough safety you can have on a boat," said Leger. "So whatever precaution we need, we'll take them and go from there.

"Harvesters are really proud people and don't readily admit that they can't handle their work," said Brun. "But I don't want to see these incidents happening again in our fleets."