OHS Canada Magazine

TSB calls for better jurisdictional safety co-operation in wake of Nunavut commercial fishing death

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December 7, 2023
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety Commercial Fishing fishing safety Nunavut TSB

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The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is calling for better co-operation between jurisdictions — including itself, the Department of Employment and Social Development, and Territorial governments — in the wake of a commercial fishing accident that left one worker dead.

The incident happened on Aug. 26, 2021, on the fishing vessel Suvak in the Davis Straight in Nunavut.

The Suvak was nearing the end of a two-week fishing trip when one of two crew members who were hauling and setting nets was pulled overboard after his arm became entangled in a buoy line. The crew member was recovered from the water and later pronounced dead.

The investigation identified risks related to the absence of fatigue management plans and risk assessments for operating procedures. In this occurrence, the two crew members setting the nets had been awake for over 21 consecutive hours and had only taken a 1.75-hour break.

As a result, they were experiencing sleep-related fatigue from a combination of acute and chronic sleep disruption, continuous wakefulness, and circadian rhythm disruptions, which reduced their cognitive abilities, including their ability to remain vigilant against risks.


“The Suvak investigation highlights ongoing concerns about safety management, fatigue management, and regulatory surveillance, three major systemic safety issues in the commercial fishing industry that are included on the TSB Watchlist,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB. “Transport Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and the territorial governments need to enhance occupational health and safety oversight for fishing vessels registered in the territories. This gap unnecessarily puts crews at risk of workplace safety hazards.”


The TSB found a gap in the oversight of occupational health and safety (OHS) on fishing vessels registered in the Canadian territories, including the Suvak.

Transport Canada (TC) has a significant regulatory role when it comes to commercial fishing safety and provides a national regulatory framework that applies to many aspects of fishing vessels. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for the application of the Canada Labour Code, while TC is delegated the responsibility to apply and enforce the Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

Jurisdictional issues

Territorial governments consider fishing vessels to be under TC’s jurisdiction; however, TC considers OHS inspections of these vessels to be outside its jurisdiction. If there is no oversight of OHS on fishing vessels registered in the territories, there is a risk that crews of those vessels will be subject to unnecessary health and safety hazards in the workplace.

Enhanced OHS of fishing vessels could be better achieved through a coordinated and harmonized approach between federal and territorial authorities, the TSB said in a press release.

Therefore, the Board recommends that the Department of Transport, in collaboration with the Department of Employment and Social Development and the territorial governments, review the occupational health and safety oversight of fishing vessels registered in the territories to ensure effective workplace safety oversight.


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