Calvin Peach, the provincial government member for the region, said Thursday federal restrictions meant the fishermen wound up in a seven-metre, open speedboat for a second crab quota rather than the longliner they had nearby.
Peach said Kenneth Hickey, 48, had caught his wife's quota Monday using her 13-metre longliner but under the rules had to use a different vessel Tuesday to get his own quota.
"If you have two licences as husband and wife, or brothers ... you have to fish that second quota out of another boat," he said in an interview. "It's a terrible tragedy that happened and may have been prevented."
The bodies of Hickey and two other fishermen who have not been officially identified were recovered from Placentia Bay on Wednesday near the overturned boat. They had set out early Tuesday in calm weather but conditions got suddenly worse.
"I think Ottawa should reassess the whole regulations around the size of the boats and also not being able to catch the fish in the one boat," Peach said. "Combine the quotas."
Hickey was an experienced, vocal and respected advocate for harvesters who had repeatedly spoken out against such rules, Peach said.
"It has always been a struggle for fishermen to get their points across, and nobody seems to listen."
Renee Hickey said her brother-in-law, a married father of three, bought the open speedboat because his own longliner was tied up for repairs.
"If they were allowed to use their longliner, chances are they would be here with us," she said from the tiny community of Southern Harbour on the northeast coast of Placentia Bay.
Peach said the whole region is in mourning.
"Everybody knows each other. Everybody's upset and really, really taking it hard."
Federal Fisheries spokeswoman Jan Woodford expressed sympathy.
"Our thoughts are with the families of the three men who lost their lives in the tragic incident two days ago," she said Thursday in an emailed statement.
Woodford confirmed each fishing licence is linked to a specific, distinct vessel for conservation and safety reasons. Hickey was authorized to use a vessel up to 13 metres in length, she said.
"Safety of human life is our highest priority. Some licence conditions do require fishers to check their pots or nets within specified periods of time. However, if any person feels that weather conditions make it unsafe to go on the water they can and should contact their local fishery officers for a temporary exemption."
The issue also came up Thursday in the provincial legislature.
Liberal fisheries critic Sam Slade pushed the governing Progressive Conservatives to demand rule changes from Ottawa.
"Harvesters in our province are not working in calm waters off the B.C. coast or the inland waters of the Great Lakes," he said during question period. "Fishing is a dangerous profession, and our fish harvesters work in the most dangerous of waters."
Provincial Fisheries Minister Vaughn Granter said he'll take every opportunity to press the issue with his federal counterpart, Gail Shea.
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