'We'll spend $5,000 and never need it': New safety regulations frustrating Island fishermen

Some P.E.I. fishermen say new federal safety rules out Thursday has forced them to spend thousands of dollars unnecessarily.

Fishermen will need thousands of dollars in safety gear under new Transport Canada rules

Under new Transport Canada safety regulations, many fishermen will need to purchase thousands of dollars in new safety equipment. (CBC)

Some P.E.I. fishermen say new federal safety rules that came into effect Thursday has forced them to spend thousands of dollars unnecessarily. 

Under the new Transport Canada regulations unveiled in 2016, fishing vessels are required to have specific safety gear on board, including a life rafts, survival suits and a location signaling device.  

CBC has spoken to several Island fishermen, all of whom said the gear is useless to them, given how close they fish to shore and to each other. 

None of those fishermen agreed to be identified, saying they didn't want to be perceived as being against safety precautions.

"Nobody wants to be seen as anti-safety," explained one fisherman. "But this isn't about safety, it's about reasonability."

"We'll spend $5,000, and never need [the gear]," said another. "I can understand if you're fishing on your own 50 miles out. But for us, there's always 10 boats within a two mile radius.  If you're in trouble, by the time you get out the gear, somebody is next to you."

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says he's heard from fishermen frustrated with the new safety regulations, and has brought their concerns to Transport Canada. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

'I and others have lost this argument'

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter says he's heard those same concerns from fishermen over the past year, and has brought them up with Transport Canada. 

"My view is that Transport Canada, in coming in with these regulations, was reacting to an incident that happened in British Columbia where there was a loss of life," said Easter.

"They were trying to bring in regulations to prevent a similar incident from happening again, without really looking at the different kinds of situations that people manning fishing boats find themselves in. I think [Transport Canada] went over the top. But I and others have lost this argument."

I think [Transport Canada] went over the top.- Wayne Easter, Liberal MP

In a statement to CBC, Transport Canada said the new regulations do take into account differences in fisheries, vessels, and conditions across the country. 

"For example, a small fishing vessel conducting operations farther from shore will be required to have more safety equipment items than a small fishing vessel conducting operations close to shore," the statement said. 

Safety gear not available

Several fishermen also told CBC that while they've tried to purchase the new safety gear required under the regulations, some of it won't be available to them until later this fall. 

That's particularly concerning for Island halibut fishermen, who will head out on the water later this month. 

But Transport Canada says at least for now, those fishermen are unlikely to be fined if they're caught without the gear. 

"Transport Canada is aware that gear ordered only shortly before the coming into force of the regulations may not be delivered on-time and will use the graduated enforcement approach accordingly," the agenecy explained. "Transport Canada may use non-penalty actions for instances of noncompliance that do not pose an immediate risk to safety."

Transport Canada says it has provided fishing groups across Canada with a fact sheet, laying out a timeline for how the federal agency will handle enforcement.