ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray has not yet acceded to calls from the East Coast industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry for a full inquiry into industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry safety.

However, the minister told SaltWire she’s also “not ruling anything out.”

The chorus of voices calling for an inquiry has been growing for the past year.

The first group to call for an inquiry was the Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL).

Their suggestion came this past May, two days after the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report on the 2020 capsizing of the fishing vessel Sarah Anne in Placentia Bay

Four men from the Burin Peninsula died when that boat was lost at sea in 2020.

Five months later two more men — Captain Marc Russell and his crew member Joey Jenkins — were lost at sea off the coast of Labrador.


This photo from Facebook shows Marc Russell and Joey Jenkins on the fishing boat Island Lady. The two went missing on Sept. 17, 2021 and were never found. - Contributed
This photo from Facebook shows Marc Russell and Joey Jenkins on the fishing boat Island Lady. The two went missing on Sept. 17, 2021 and were never found. – Contributed

At a safety conference in St. John’s earlier this month Russell’s mother, Jeanette, said a commission of inquiry was necessary to explore all the complex issues around fishing vessel safety and to allow all industry groups to decide where improvements were needed.

“It begs a larger conversation that needs to be had, which is why I support a call for a federal commission of inquiry into fishing vessel safety, because then it can look at what everyone’s role is in this system, and then find out where are the gaps, where are the problems. It will create a platform to address these issues,” she said.

Merv Wiseman is a member of the SEA-NL board of director. He is also retired from the Coast Guard, and has been a long-time advocate for safety in the fishing and marine industries.

He said statistics he’s seen show that 71 percent of all Search and Rescue (SAR) cases in Newfoundland and Labrador are related to fishing vessel safety.

Ryan Cleary, executive director of SEA-NL added he and Wiseman had a chance to talk to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray during the Seal Summit last week in St. John’s.

Before that, though, they wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

According to Cleary, the Prime Minister’s office passed the letter to the Director General for Transport Canada, and the response they got back was not favorable.

“It absolutely negated any need for an inquiry or for any SAR resources for Labrador,” said Cleary.

That’s why SEA-NL continues to lobby.


At a press conference on the south side of St. John's Harbour on May 20, members of the Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) called for a commission of inquiry on fishing vessel safety. Left to right are: fisherman Bruce Layman, safety advocate Merv Wiseman and executive director Ryan Cleary. - joe gibbons
At a press conference on the south side of St. John’s Harbour on May 20, members of the Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) called for a commission of inquiry on fishing vessel safety. Left to right are: fisherman Bruce Layman, safety advocate Merv Wiseman and executive director Ryan Cleary. – joe gibbons

And it’s why Wiseman is happy the issue continues to get attention, and support.

The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) is once again supportive of the quest for an inquiry into fishing vessel safety.

The Association, which represents seafood processing companies in Newfoundland and Labrador, supported the SEA-NL suggestion last May and is supporting Jeanette Russell’s request as well.

“We have said this before, and it bears repeating, and it is timely in the context of this week’s calls for an inquiry by the family of the late Marc Russell, who lost his life tragically last year, along with his mate Joey Jenkins,” said Derek Butler, Executive Director of ASP, in a press release.

“We support that call, and we have been on record in the past in support of that. It is a double tragedy when other sectors see inquiries, see commissions, and studies, but in the fishery, we somehow have come to accept the tragic losses of life, which need not be the case,” said Butler. “These are our colleagues, we work with them, we know their families. Things can be different, and an inquiry can add to the work done by the Senate Fisheries Committee, by the Transportation Safety Board, and by others who have said something needs to change.”

Jeanette Russell also called on the federal government to establish Search and Rescue operations in Labrador, where there are no Coast Guard stations or even Coast Guard fast rescue craft.

SEA-NL, the ASP and Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) also support that quest.

In a press release on Nov. 8, the union said, for example, there is “an urgent need for a fast lifeboat station (in Labrador), similar to the ones at St. Anthony and Port aux Choix.”

FFAW president Keith Sullivan also said, “Fish harvesters in Labrador must be thoroughly consulted and listened to, rather than continually ignored. It’s clear that additional resources are needed, and the federal government must commit to providing these critical services,” he said.

Support is also coming from The Northern Coalition, an alliance of fisheries-based social enterprises owned and operated by the indigenous communities of Canada’s Eastern Arctic and Labrador.

In a letter to DFO minister Joyce Murray on Nov. 9, the Coalition said it’s been argued in the past that Gander and Greenwood can offer adequate response times to fishing crisis off the province’s coasts.

“But Labrador, especially the Northern regions and into the Davis Strait, present much more formidable distances,” executive director Alistair O’Reilly told SaltWire.

The Coalition argued that Labrador-based SAR resources would also support the Northern Shrimp and Greenland Halibut fleets operating in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait waters.

And it’s not just the industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry that needs dedicated search and rescue operations based in Labrador, the coalition said.

“Beyond the interests of the industry/" 1951 target="_blank">fishing industry, the increasing cargo and tourism-based vessel traffic throughout the Eastern Arctic and Labrador coast also give rise to the need for a stronger Canadian Coast Guard presence in these regions,” the Coalition wrote, adding, “Climate change is advancing rapidly and has already extended shipping seasons and increased vessel traffic in the region.”

The Coalition also supports the need for an inquiry into fishing safety, said O’Reilly, adding, “The minister will be hard-pressed to duck this issue as it is solely within her mandate.”

On the issue of SAR resources for Labrador, Murray told SaltWire in an interview last week, “First of all . . . as a mother, I just want to express my condolences to the families (of Mark and Joey).”

She said the tragedy highlights “the dangers of being a fish harvester on our wild east coast.”

Murray added Canada, with two times the length of coastline of any other country in the world, has a lot of need for search and rescue resources.

“The coast guard has done its very best to provide equitable access to search and rescue within a certain time frame, with air resources and ship resources.”

She added, “St. Anthony is the base that supplies the service to Labrador and we’ll always keep looking at … whether the distribution of resources is appropriate and equitable.”

The minister was non-committal on whether the department would be adding SAR resources in Labrador but did hint the issue is active within her department.

“I’ll be having a briefing myself on that in the coming weeks,” she said.

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