It’s been six years since the fishing vessel, L’Acadien II, capsized off Cape Breton while under tow in ice by the icebreaker CCGS Sir William Alexander.
Two of the crew were saved while four others drowned. The vessel was on its way to the seal hunt when it lost its rudder in ice and had to call for the tow.
Since the incident, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has been looking at new structural regulations to increase safety for small fishing vessels operating in the ice. However, to date none have been implemented.
The file is currently listed as open on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) website, and the latest addition to it says, “Transport Canada (TC) is developing proposed new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations that include revised provisions for fishing vessels that may navigate in ice-covered waters.”
With the thickest ice being reported a quarter of a century, some people are wondering why safety recommendations made by the TSB to TC have not yet been implemented.
Concern is even coming from some unexpected places including Sheryl Fink with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“We want to see the seal hunt end, but we certainly don’t want to see anyone die at it,” says Fink.
The issue with the recommendations that arose from the L’Acadien II incident, but still without becoming regulations recently came to Fink’s attention and she contacted The Telegram about it.
“On the one hand the government is encouraging and promoting a seal hunt that continues to be very risky and dangerous, and on the other hand they’re ignoring recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board that would make this hunt safer for the people involved,” says Fink.
“And the government’s excuse for not taking action seems to be, ‘Well there’s so many fewer boats taking part in the seal hunt therefore the risk isn’t as great.’ I mean to me, to anyone, what’s the value of a life? — It’s not any less risky for the ones actually still going.”
Risk is something fishermen and sealers are used to taking, though. What some of them can’t take anymore of are regulations.
“I think it’s a pile of crap,” Leo Seymour out of Harbour Round says about the possibility of the federal government making further regulations that sealers and fishermen would have to follow.
Seymour had a run-in with regulations years ago when he bought a 40-foot boat and was told he had to chop it down to 34 feet, 11 inches in order to still be able to keep his inshore fisherman quotas.
He argued that he wasn’t going to fish anymore just because his boat was bigger, but DFO told him if they allowed fishermen to have bigger boats, they would want bigger quotas.
That’s why Seymour doesn’t buy the safety regulation argument. If they were so concerned about safety, he says, they would let a fella get a 75-foot vessel if he so wanted to fish the inshore.
Seymour is well aware of how thick the ice is this year. It’s so thick, it may keep him from the hunt.
“I got my doubts that we’ll even get out of the harbour,” he says. “We’re froze in solid here.”
Too little ice means the seal hunt suffers. Too much and it can suffer, as well. There’s always a tradeoff, it seems, and equal is the tradeoff between economics and safety.
If regulations are brought in, Seymour says inshore fishermen like him might not have the money to meet them. But they’ll have to if they want to continue with their livelihood.
“If they brought in regulations, then you got to go with it,” says Seymour, adding, soberly that no matter what they bring in, there’s still going to be a loss of life at sea.
Nobody from the TSB was available for comment.
This is an edited version