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New Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations are Coming


Changes to Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations will come into force beginning July 13, 2017—one year after they were initially announced. Transport Canada has said these regulations will help reduce fatalities, injuries, and loss or damage to vessels in the commercial fishing industry.

These changes amend the previous Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations, which have not been updated in 40 years or kept up with industry best practices and new technologies.

Action Steps

In general, the Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations apply to small fishing vessels that are less than 24.4 metres in length and 150 gross tonnage. Transport Canada’s one-year transition of the regulations will come to a close July 13, 2017, and fishing vessel owners will need to comply with the new requirements.

The following are some major highlights from the regulation:

  • Safety equipment. As per the new regulation, small fishing vessels must have firefighting equipment (portable fire extinguishers) on board. Personal life-saving appliances are also required for all small fishing vessels, and items like life rafts, immersion suits and lifebuoys must be readily available.
  • Safe operating procedures. The new regulations require small fishing vessels to provide safe operating procedures in writing to the crew. These procedures must meet the language needs of the crew, and will most likely be written in English and/or French. To execute these procedures, the fishing vessel crew should be familiar with the following:
    • The location and use of all safety equipment
    • General safety measures, including how to prevent people from falling overboard, how to retrieve someone who has fallen overboard, how to protect limbs from rotating equipment, and how to avoid ropes, docking lines, nets and other safety equipment
    • How to activate the quick release of loads during an emergency, particularly when beam trawling and purse seining
    • Fire and explosion prevention methods
    • Measures related to maintaining water- and weather-tightness, thus preventing flooding of the hull interior
    • Safe loading, stowage and unloading practices, particularly as they relate to fish catches, baits and consumables
    • Towing and lifting equipment operating procedures

While written safety procedures do not need Transport Canada approval, marine safety inspectors may ask to see copies of the written safety procedures on board the vessel.

  • Safety drills. Drills on safety procedures must be held to ensure that the crew is proficient in carrying them out. A record must be kept of every drill.
  • Vessel stability. New and small fishing vessels that have a hull length between 9 and 24.4 metres are required to have a formal stability assessment. In addition, new and small fishing vessels that have a hull length of less than 6 metres must be compliant with the standards for buoyancy, flotation and stability set out in Section 4 of the Construction Standards for Small Vessels. New and small fishing vessels with a hull length between 6 and 9 metres are required to be compliant with recommended practices and standards specific to their vessel type and their intended operations.
  • Stability assessments. A full stability assessment consists of inclining the vessel and developing a stability booklet. Doing so helps operators understand the limits of their vessels and, in turn, allows the crew to load them in a safe manner and to avoid the risks associated with swamping, capsizing, foundering and sinking. Under the new regulations, stability assessments—either full or simplified—are required for the following vessels:
    • New and small fishing vessels that have a hull length greater than 9 metres
    • Existing small fishing vessels that have a hull length greater than 9 metres and have undergone a major modification that’s likely to impact overall stability
    • Existing fishing vessels that weigh more than 15 gross tonnage and are used for catching herring or capelin
    • Fishing vessels that are fitted with an anti-roll tank
    • Small fishing vessels that carry fish in bulk, exhibit free-surface effects or have a hull length of more than 18 metres

Improving Safety

As previously mentioned, the government hopes the new regulations will make commercial fishing safer. According to Transport Canada, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada. New safety requirements may help reduce the two primary causes of fatalities on commercial fishing vessels—stability-related accidents (58 per cent of fatalities) and falling overboard (27 per cent of fatalities).

Many commercial fishermen and women support the new legislation, but have requested more clarity on required standard operating procedures and more time to acquire expensive safety equipment. To read the legislation in full, click here.

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