Mi’kmaq fishers say feds aren’t listening to their concerns about safety

In the early morning hours of April 3, 2021, the fishing vessel Tyhawk launched into the icy waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Chéticamp, Nova Scotia.

The weather was bad. Ice was accumulating on the boat because of freezing rain. Despite this, the captain and his crew of four kept going to set their crab traps.

As they approached the fishing grounds, things went from bad to worse.

“As the Tyhawk neared the fishing grounds, the weather became more severe, as did the vessel’s rolling movements, which allowed water to accumulate on board. Shortly after, following a significant roll to starboard, the main deck submerged allowing for more water to enter, eventually leading to the capsizing of the vessel,” said a recent report from the Transportation Safety Board – a federal agency that investigations any deaths or incidents involving boats, planes or trains in Canada.

Mi’kmaw fishermen Craig Sock, known as “Jumbo” and Seth Monoham, 39, died when the boat capsized. Sock’s body has not been recovered.

The TSB, as it’s commonly called, made two observations. One that modifications made to the Tyhawk were unsafe and that Transport Canada needed to do a better job at assessing whether the change was safe or not.

According to Derek Sock, Jumbo’s brother who is also a fisherman, the Tyhawk was a lobster boat that had been modified to handle larger crab pots. He said his brother added a second deck to accommodate the traps. That’s what caught the ice and rain on that fateful April morning and caused the boat to capsize.

Feds didn’t consider the ‘safety implications’ when it opened the season early

The other issue raised by the TSB was the fact that the crab season opened earlier than normal in 2021.

“DFO moved the opening date for the snow crab fishery almost 3 weeks earlier than previous years’ opening dates,” the TSB report released on Nov. 22 said. “This decision was based on the advice of a sub-committee made up of representatives from industry and government. DFO and the sub-committee members considered the selection of the opening date and time for the 2021 snow crab fishery as routine.

“Consequently, hazards posed by changing the date, such as increased likelihood of colder water, ice, and freezing rain, or by opening the fishery at midnight, increasing the risk of fatigue, were not identified and assessed for safety implications.”

Read More: 

Report says deck modification led to fatal capsizing of First Nation fishing vessel 

Mi’kmaw community where harvesters died asked for delay in season prior to boat sinking 

But Mi’kmaw fisher said they did recognize the dangers in opening the season early.

In 2021, Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to delay the opening of the crab season days before they Tyhawk capsized.

There was still ice on the water and the community considered it a hazard for harvesters.

Sock said if the season opens, fish harvesters are going out.

“Right at the beginning of the season it’s very important the first three four hauls that makes or breaks your season that’s the first three or four days,” said Sock.

Sock added that federal agencies like the TSB still aren’t soliciting the expertise that Mi’kmaw fishers have. He said there was no reference to Mi’kmaw knowledge in the TSB report.

“We’ve been doing this for millennia,” he said. “Our ancestors they were expert fishermen. They should be listening to the grassroots people more and more because that’s where you get all the like the vital information of what is really needed here.”

But he added – the work of the TSB is a start.

“You know like we’re not involved we’re not, we should be like side by side and I think that should be in every, every government level hand in hand side by side and that would make it so much easier for us as you know fishermen,” he said.

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