In the early morning of 6 September 2016, the Pop's Pride departed St. John's Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, with the master and three crew members on board to attend to the cod gillnets they had previously set approximately 0.65 nautical miles north of Cape Spear. On that day, the wind in the area rose to 25-30 knots, causing significant spray and waves up to two metres high, with water temperature at 12 °C. Once all gillnets were recovered, the load on board the small vessel, combined with the environmental conditions, likely caused the Pop's Pride to swamp and sink, leaving the four fishermen in the water. No distress signals were received and it wasn't until 1539 that family and community members reported the vessel overdue. Halifax search and rescue authorities initiated a search operation shortly thereafter and by early evening, two bodies wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs) were recovered. The submerged vessel was located the following day. The other two crew members were never found and are presumed drowned.
The investigation determined that the Pop's Pride proceeded in weather conditions beyond the normal operating conditions of an open fishing vessel. The crew's decision to sail in adverse weather and sea conditions was likely influenced by several factors related to fisheries resource management measures and economic pressures. One such factor was the licence requirement to attend to the fishing gear every 48 hours in order to ensure fresh product and minimize waste. Although the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Regulations provide for extensions under exceptional circumstances beyond the fisherman's control, like inclement weather, this information is not included in the licence conditions document for cod fishing issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Another factor that may have influenced the crew's decision is the weekly fishing quota with no end-of-season date, which was introduced in 2016. Because the closing date was not predetermined, the season could close at any time and, as a result, the crew was likely highly motivated to meet their weekly quota. If fish harvesting measures do not take into account the safety impact on fishermen, there is a risk that they will fish in conditions they would otherwise avoid, thereby compromising the safety of the vessel and crew.
The investigation also determined that the Pop's Pride did not have an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), nor was it required by regulation to carry one. In 2001, the Board issued Recommendation M00-09 calling on Transport Canada (TC) to require that small fishing vessels carry an EPIRB or other appropriate emergency communications equipment. The new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations (FVSR), which came into effect a year after this accident, do not extend this requirement to fishing vessels less than 12 metres in length. The TSB continues to record fatalities and occurrences on board small fishing vessels that were not equipped with an EPIRB, and that were either unable or did not use any other means of signalling distress. The measures in the FVSR do not mitigate the risk identified in Recommendation M00-09. Therefore, the Board has reassessed TC's response as unsatisfactory.
The TSB has made a number of other recommendations over time to address the safety risks highlighted in today's report. Two recommendations called on TC to work to enhance safety culture within the fishing industry through greater collaboration with DFO, the fishing community and training institutions. Actions taken in response to these recommendations were assessed as fully satisfactory (M03-02) and satisfactory in part (M03-07) due to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2006 among TC, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure collaboration on commercial fishermen's safety at sea. More recently, Recommendation M16-03 called on TC to require that all small fishing vessels undergo a stability assessment and establish standards to ensure that the stability information is adequate and readily available to crew members. The response to that recommendation has not yet been assessed.
In 2012, the TSB released an in-depth Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, providing an overall national view of safety issues in the fishing industry. Commercial fishing safety has also been a Watchlist issue since 2010. As this tragic accident demonstrates, concerns remain about the use and availability of lifesaving appliances on board, such as EPIRBs, and about unsafe operating practices.