Fatigue, unsafe work practices and a lack of training continue to put fishermen at risk despite hundreds of safety investigations and subsequent recommendations, the Transportation Safety Board said Thursday in a report.
The independent agency launched a three-year safety investigation in 2009 into accidents involving commercial fishing vessels.
The board said it was concerned that on average, 14 people had died each year between 1999 and 2008 in fishing accidents in Canada.
In all, the report identifies 10 significant safety issues the board says require immediate improvement, including the use of life-saving devices such as life-jackets and immersion suits that are properly designed, fitted and maintained.
"Hundreds of marine accidents are reported to the (board) every year, but it's those involving fishing vessels where we see the most fatalities," lead investigator Glenn Budden said in press release.
"We need to do more to solve these problems so that Canada's fishermen make it safely home to port."
Board investigators, including experts in commercial fishing, marine engineering and naval architecture, visited 10 locations in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
They interviewed more than 300 fishermen, fish processors, fishing associations and government regulators as part of their research.
Their investigation found that fishermen work frequently when they're tired and often underestimate the risks of doing so.
It also said training is often not practical or evaluated regularly, and that fishermen and their vessels are being put at risk through unsafe work practices.
"During this investigation's consultations, some fishermen reported that they had fished for many years without an accident and without using any safety practice except common sense," the report said.
"Others said that fishing was a dangerous occupation and that accidents were inevitable no matter what precautions they took."
Other safety issues and subsequent goals identified in their report include:
— Understanding and applying the principles of vessel stability to avoid capsizing.
— Ensuring fisheries resource management includes reducing safety risks, such as overloading vessels with traps.
— Improving the regulatory framework. The report said on average, it takes about 13 years for regulatory changes to be implemented once Transport Canada accepts there's a safety deficiency.
— Ensuring practical, understandable safety information is accessed by the fishing community.
— Viewing safety and its associated costs as a key part of managing fishing operations.
— Collecting, analysing and communicating quality data on fishing vessel accidents so that hazards and risks can be identified.
The report said most of the safety issues have been addressed in past board investigations. However, it also said it is not productive to address the problems on an "issue-by-issue basis" when they are often linked.
"This investigation has highlighted the variability in attitudes and behaviours towards safety across Canada's fishing community," the report said.
"To yield significant change, a recommendation must address a deficiency by taking into account that it is linked to a number of safety issues. It also must be received by the fishing community and acted upon using a co-ordinated approach."
Fishing vessel safety has been labelled an issue on the board's watch list, which lists all issues posing serious risk to Canada's transportation system.
The report said most fatalities involving fishermen are caused by vessel stability issues and people falling overboard.
Since its creation in 1990, the board said it has made 42 safety recommendations to Transport Canada — the federal department that has regulatory authority in the industry.
Of those recommendations, 17 dealt with stability issues and 13 with life-saving devices.
However, the report said not all recommendations have been implemented. As a result, "safety issues identified in numerous earlier (board) investigations stubbornly persist."
The report said groups in some provinces, including British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, have already taken steps to improve fishing safety.
Budden said the initiatives are a good start, but no one group has been able to fully address the issues.
"The key is co-operation."