September 28, 2022


For First-Rate Health

Fish Safe NS launches mental health and wellness project for fishing industry

Mental health and wellness resources for the fishing industry are getting a boost from a new project launched by Fish Safe NS.

“We are putting a focus on mental health because we hear these stories on the wharves how people are affected by injury, or things that have happened on the ocean or who have lost someone overboard,” says. Matthew Duffy, executive director of the non-profit organization. “They talk about the trauma that comes along with it, not just physical pain, but the mental side.”

Fish Safe NS has launched one awareness video, with a second scheduled to premiere on the organization’s social media and YouTube channels shortly.

In the first video, one of the things talked about is how important it is for people to know that mental health is something that can and should be talked about, and not kept bottled up.

“We need our leadership and organizations to understand how mental health impacts employees in order to keep employees safe, to keep productivity up, and so that everyone is prosperous,” says Patricia Auchnie, a therapist with Nova Salutem Inc.

“If a person is depressed, uncomfortable, not feeling themselves, they can be distracted, which causes injuries,” adds Star Donovan, human resources manager with Mersey Seafoods Ltd.

Andrew Titus, a captain with Mersey Seafoods Ltd., notes in the fishing industry things can happen very quickly – to an individual themselves or to a friend or coworker. 

“It just makes accidents happen much easier,” he says.

You can view Fish Safe NS’s mental health/wellness video here:

Fish Safe NS is also giving its website a makeover and will have a portal with a complete section on mental health and wellness to make it easier for people to find help and resources that they can utilize, said Duffy.

In addition, Fish Safe NS will be offering a one-day course, Mental Health for the Workplace, through St. John Ambulance, with 50 per cent off for members who enroll.

“The course is not to make anyone certified to deal with mental health issues, but it helps to identify if someone is in distress or how to help a person find resources, so it just brings awareness,” said Duffy. “It’s all about identifying and helping them get help so, hopefully, it can make a difference. We’re also putting one of our safety advisors through the program to become an instructor.”

Duffy said Fish Safe NS will be doing some more awareness videos on the industry’s processing and aquaculture side, probably over the winter, spring and next summer.

The first round of videos focuses on the harvesting side of the industry. Duffy said Fish Safe NS partnered with member company Mersey Seafoods on the project because it has been implementing mental health resources for its employees for several years now – before it became commonplace to be talked about.

“Mental health and wellness is not just something that affects the fishing industry. It’s provincewide regardless of what sector you work in. We’re going to continue working on that and expanding it as much as possible,” said Duffy.

Physical safety is important too

Fish Safe NS also focuses on the physical wellbeing of those in the fishing industry, especially at the start of the lobster seasons with man overboard drills and a focus on safety on the vessels. 

And there is a huge focus on safety by the industry itself and also agencies like the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Coast Guard to make sure the season gets off to a safe start.

“It’s one of our busiest days of the year,” said Stephen Waller, acting regional supervisor for Maritime Search and Rescue at the Halifax Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC). “The vast majority of incidents happen opening day or the day after. The most dangerous time is when the boats are loaded with traps.”

It is standard practice to have additional SAR resources deployed throughout the region on opening day and the first day of hauling, Waller says.

“The message we like to get out to people on the water is safety is the top priority. It’s important to remember they have a shared responsibility for their safety on the water,” he said.

“We’re going to be there. We’re going to do everything we can to protect them, but they have a role to play too. I encourage people to make sure their EPIRBS are registered, and they are carrying all the appropriate safety equipment on board. If they do their part, it helps us out immensely.”