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Atlantic fishermen groups want more time to adapt to new vessel safety rules

New regulations are scheduled to go into effect this July


HALIFAX (The Canadian Press) — Fishery organizations in Atlantic Canada say they are frustrated with the rollout of new federal fishing-vessel safety regulations scheduled to take effect in July, but Ottawa says they’re being given sufficient time to comply.

Representatives from a number of regional and national groups walked out of a meeting with Transport Canada Officials on Thursday in Halifax when they didn’t get the answers they were hoping for.

Sharon Walsh, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fish Harvesting Safety Association, says the groups are looking for a phase-in period to help fishermen and companies be compliant — but federal officials have not been receptive to the idea.

“What we have is a logistical implementation issue,” Walsh said in an interview Friday.

She said from a legal standpoint fish harvesters will be fully liable for the regulations beginning July 13 and many are upset that there’s just not enough time to get ready. She said in Newfoundland that has implications for 9,000 fishermen and 3,600 businesses — many of which have more than one vessel.

“No doubt they feel they are being put in a position of noncompliance because even if everybody put their best foot forward, it’s not logistically possible to get every vessel in compliance with those regulations by that date.”

Under the regulations, vessels will be required to have written safety procedures and safety equipment such as life-rafts, survival suits and a location-signalling device. The rules also call for vessel stability testing.

A spokeswoman with Transport Canada says owners of fishing vessels have been given a year to familiarize themselves and get up to date with the new requirements.

Marie-Anyk Cote says the goal of the rules is to reduce fatalities, injuries and loss or damage to vessels in the commercial fishing industry.

Cote also says the new regulations address Transportation Safety Board recommendations and are expected to contribute to a decrease in the frequency and severity of the two primary causes of fatalities on commercial fishing vessels: stability-related accidents and falling overboard.

“The regulations are… providing the industry with a choice of alternate arrangements to meet the proposed requirements in the manner that is most cost-effective/suitable to the nature of their vessels and operations,” she wrote in a prepared statement.

However, Walsh said, the groups have been told the regulations would move ahead with an initial phase of “soft enforcement,” though she couldn’t say what that would entail.

“Given the requirements and the potential positive impact that we can have on safety, it is important to get it right,” she said. “It’s not that complicated… and if you get the right folks in the room, I believe it can be worked out.”

Ian MacPherson, general manager of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, said cost of the safety equipment is also an issue.

“We have had a bounce back in some of the fisheries the last few years, but base cost is probably around $3,000, and depending on life-raft choices and number of crew, it could be up from there. The number we have been hearing is between $3,000 and $6,000 per vessel.”

MacPherson said the industry has asked for a phase-in period of three years or more.

He also said there needs to better communication with federal officials around how the rules will be enforced.

“When any new regulation comes in, you want it to be fair and consistent enforcement,” said MacPherson.

Copyright (c) 2017 The Canadian Press