Fishing spotlight: No deaths in past 12 months – a first for the industry in UK

Conar Fishburn accepts the 100th Apprentice Award presented to him by Simon Potten. At the Whitby Fishing School annual awards. Picture Kathryn Bulmer.
Conar Fishburn accepts the 100th Apprentice Award presented to him by Simon Potten. At the Whitby Fishing School annual awards. Picture Kathryn Bulmer.

When it comes to fishing safety we rarely hear good news, says Simon Potten, Head of Safety and Training at Seafish.

It is usually only news of lost fishing vessels and fishermen that make the headlines.

However, there are encouraging signs that the UK fishing industry is becoming safer and recently it achieved a notable milestone – zero fatalities for twelve months.

This has never been achieved before. Every fishing vessel owner, skipper and crew member should feel justifiably proud of the contribution they have made to achieve this milestone and want to extend it further.

The arrival of the first autumn storms in the UK is always a time of heightened concern for the safety and well-being of the brave men and women who work on our fishing vessels catching and landing the fantastic seafood that we all love to eat.

However, in recent years it has been the summer months that have seen the most fatalities. The nine fishermen who died in 2016 were lost in accidents that occurred between April and September.

At the time of writing, there had been no commercial fishing fatalities since the tragic death of fisherman Lee Renney who was dragged overboard from the potter Pauline Mary (WY845) off Hartlepool in September 2016.

So what’s changed?

Well, members of the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG) believe that owners, skippers and crew are all becoming more safety conscious and that safety messages are getting through, partly as a result of its efforts to raise awareness and increase the adoption of safer working practices.

FISG brings together representatives from the UK fishing industry with the regulator and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).

More regulation isn’t always the solution, so FISG engages organisations like Seafish, the RNLI, the Fishermen’s Mission and the Shipbuilders and Shiprepairers Association, to help develop and implement solutions/initiatives to prevent the recurrence of common accidents.

Recent initiatives have included the promotion and distribution of constant-wear Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) to help prevent manoverboard fatalities (the biggest single cause of death amongst fishermen) and substantial funding to support fishermen wanting to update/develop their skills and knowledge through training.