Canada’s transportation safety agency says modifications to the deck of the Mi’kmaq fishing boat Tyhawk led to the fatal capsizing in 2021.
The Transportation Safety Board, or TSB, says in a report released Wednesday that Transport Canada needs to better define the rules on stability assessments of fishing boats after vessels undergo “major” modifications.
“Over the past 30 years, the TSB has been sounding the alarm over the numerous safety deficiencies that continue to put at risk the lives of Canadian fish harvesters,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB. “Too many fish harvesters still don’t make it home from what could have been a preventable accident.”
According to the TSB, 11 fish harvesters are killed each year in the commercial fishing industry.
The recommendation is one of three the board released in relation to the capsizing off western Cape Breton on April 3, 2021, which occurred on the first day of crab season.
The report says the boat, based in Elsipogtog First Nation, accumulated water as it was struck by waves and that traps shifted on its deck, causing the vessel to roll over.
Tyhawk’s five crew climbed on top of the overturned vessel, but the master, Craig Sock, was swept into the water. His body has never been recovered.
The four remaining crew were rescued by the fishing vessel Northumberland Spray, but one of them, 39-year-old Seth Monahan, was pronounced dead in hospital.
The report says the Tyhawk’s stability was “compromised” by the addition of a removable deck used for snow crab fishing, which hadn’t been evaluated for its impact on the vessel’s stability.
It says that while Transport Canada rules require stability assessments for fishing boats that have gone through “major” modifications, the definition is open to interpretation.
The report says that without a clear definition of a major change, fishing boat owners, masters and Transport Canada inspectors may fail to properly identify risks.
As well, the report says that despite concerns raised by the industry, the federal Fisheries Department advanced the opening date of the season by three weeks without completely assessing the safety risks.
Another recommendation calls for the federal Fisheries Department to ensure that risks to fish harvesters are identified and to include independent safety experts in that decision-making process.
Elsipogtog wanted to delay start of the season
The community wanted the season delayed because there was still ice on the water making it a hazard for harvesters.
“The federal government, the DFO is not listening to our people,” former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters told APTN News in 2021. “They continue to make their own rules and regulations putting fishermen’s lives in jeopardy.”