Two ways to make the fishing industry in the UK safer

Simon Potten, Head of Safety and Training, discusses how local engagement and more training could be the key to making the fishing industry safer.

It’s Maritime Safety Week (4-8 July) which is a great platform for raising national awareness of safety in the commercial fishing industry. We have been supporting Maritime Safety Week since it was started by the Department for Transport in 2018.  

In those five years there have been 23 deaths on commercial fishing vessels in the UK. Unfortunately, most of them came in 2021 when we tragically lost 10 fishermen. The worst year in over a decade for lives lost. 

Which is why I think Maritime Safety Week is more important this year than ever before. 

So, what can we do to make the fishing industry safer?  

There are two areas I want to use the platform of Maritime Safety Week to highlight. Only by raising awareness of the challenges faced by those working in the fishing industry can we convince those in power to provide the support the industry needs. 

1. More local engagement with the fishing communities

Improving the safety culture in the fishing industry can only be achieved by those who do the job; changing their attitude and behaviours and adopting safer working practices. It cannot be achieved through regulation and enforcement alone. 

We are part of the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG), a pan-UK group which includes us and representatives from:

  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency 
  • Marine Accident Investigation Branch 
  • Scottish Fishermen’s Federation 
  • National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations 
  • Northern Irish Fishermen’s Federation
  • Welsh Fishermen’s Association 
  • RNLI  
  • Shipbuilders and Repairers Association.  

Its purpose is to identify and address the most significant causes of casualties and loss of life in the fishing industry.

The fishing industry in the UK is diverse with a multitude of different types and sizes of fishing vessels. A “one size fits all” approach to fishing safety does not work and local knowledge and experience is vital to engaging fishermen. 

In 2017, we worked with the fishing industry in Northern Ireland to set up a regional safety forum. All members are local but the forum connects with the Fishing Industry Safety Group to share information, issues and ideas. The success of this forum has inspired other regional safety forums/committees to be established over the years. However, they need more engagement from the local fishing industry to be effective.  

If you work on a commercial fishing vessel, get in touch with your nearest regional safety forum. Find out what they are up to and how to get involved. If there isn’t one near you, speak to us or your local fishing federation or organisation about setting one up. 

The South West Fishing Safety Committee worked with Seafood Cornwall Training to support the hire of Clive Palfrey as a Safety Advisor.
The Welsh Fishing Safety Committee supported delivery of a project to give free Personal Flotation Devices with Personal Locator Beacons to all commercial fishermen in Wales.

Below is a list of the current regional safety committees. This includes a new safety forum in North East England which is holding its first meeting during Maritime Safety Week. 

2. Better training for new entrants coming into the fishing industry 

In my opinion, one of the foundations needed for a safer fishing industry in the future is improving the training provided to new entrants. 

It cannot be right that someone can start work in the most dangerous industry in the UK with just 1-day’s training in Basic Sea Survival. I would like to see every new entrant provided with a fully funded training programme that provides them with all the knowledge, skills and certificates they need to work safely in the fishing industry.  

Starting all new entrants off on a professional footing like this, would go a long way to helping embed safe working practices and an improved safety culture into the workforce. Fishing vessel crew need to be professional seafarers, no different to those working in other maritime industries.  

We are currently funding delivery of our 3-week Introduction to Commercial Fishing course which gives those just starting out in fishing a much richer foundation before they start work. Delivered by our network of Approved Training Providers, it includes the four mandatory safety training courses that are legally required to work on a vessel. 

Other recommended options for new entrants include: 

I hope everyone can use Maritime Safety Week to have more important conversations about safety at sea and I pray that next year’s fishing safety statistics show a positive outcome from this engagement.