New Brunswick

Some question if early crab fishing season is to blame for boating tragedy

Concerns are being raised about what an early snow crab fishing season could mean for smaller vessels after a boat capsized on Saturday off the coast of Cape Breton.

'Somebody made it a decision ... and the little guys didn't have much of a say,' says harbour master

CCGS Cape Roger, pictured in March, was part of the search for the missing fisher on Sunday. Halifax's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre later announced that the search had been suspended. (Name withheld by request)

Concerns are being raised about what an early snow crab fishing season could mean for smaller vessels after a boat capsized on Saturday off the coast of Cape Breton, N.S.

The Tyhawk belongs to the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. Four of its crew members were rescued from the water but one, identified by community members as Seth Monahan, died.

Captain Craig Sock is still missing after bad weather halted the search on Sunday — he is also presumed dead.

"We're sending our boats out, our fishermen out, to do big boat fishing, big jobs that big boats are supposed to be doing," said former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters. 

"We have little boats."

'Died warriors'

In previous years, the snow crab fishing season opened in mid to late April. But that date has gradually been moved forward.

"In my books, they died warriors, you know, and they were sent out in a field that they shouldn't have been — that's what I think," said Levi-Peters.

Seth Monahan who died in the tragedy was originally from the community of Red Bank, N.B. (Seth Monahan/Facebook)

This year, boats like the Tyhawk headed out to sea in search of snow crab on April 3.

"The government decided in their infinite wisdom that in order to save the whales and interaction with them with the fishing gear and that, that they would go early," said Jody Pratt, harbour master with the Richibucto port authority.

But, he said, Mother Nature doesn't always co-operate.

"There's still ice floes that are moving in and out of watersheds and rivers and anything connected to the strait and the ocean."

'Put under the gun'

According to Pratt, what caused the boat to capsize remains uncertain. However, he said these boats are smaller than most and many are top-heavy due to the necessary equipment.

"I felt they were put under the gun to get out there and there was no stalling of the season if you will because the big boats were ready ... come hell or high water they were going," said Pratt.

"The little guys either had to go along for the trip to get whatever crumbs they could that were going to be felt out there."

Craig Sock was known as Jumbo and is described as a "gentle soul" and a "teddy bear" by members of the community. He is still missing and presumed dead. (Pauline Young/Facebook)

Pratt said he is worried something similar could happen again.

"Somebody made it a decision to make it a go and the little guys really didn't have much of a say at the table."

'We lost two men'

As for former chief Levi-Peters, she said the shock of the tragedy is slowly wearing off and reality is beginning to set in.

"When I found out, I actually ... I cried. I cried, I think, for about an hour. I just couldn't stop crying."

Now, Levi-Peters said those fishermen are being remembered: Monahan as a family man and Sock for his big heart.

"DFO opened the season and as fishermen, you know when the season opens, you want to be the first ... they went up," she said, pausing. "And we lost two men."

According to spokesperson Chris Krepski, the Transportation Safety Board is gathering information to determine whether there will be an investigation.

In an emailed statement, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan said she's awaiting the findings of the TSB.

"The safety of all fishers is DFO's first priority," said the statement.

"My thoughts are with the family and friends of the two crew members who perished with the sinking of the FV Tyhawk, and the entire Elsipogtog community, during this horrible time.  Fish harvesters are so often from close, tight-knit communities and I know this loss will be felt deeply by many people."

More from CBC New Brunswick

With files from Shane Fowler

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