Commercial fishing is the single deadliest way to earn a living in America according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job is so dangerous it has many mothers glued to their VHF radios, praying for the safe return of their husbands and sons.
The first day of the lobster fishing season off the coast of Nova Scotia is a race among fisherman to deploy their traps into the most plentiful waters. The day is known as ‘Dumping Day’ within the tight knit lobster fishing community. The official start of Dumping Day this year was 6am on November 30th and like every year, the kick-off to the 2015 season was not without incident.
“Dumping Day is always the most dangerous,” Lobsterman Nate King told CTV Atlantic. King was part of the crew of one of the boats that ran into serious trouble. What makes Dumping Day so treacherous is that the boat’s crew must swiftly deploy traps at the stern and it is not uncommon for crew members to get caught up in the ropes or traps and get dragged into the Atlantic.
“When the boat took another roll everything went.. Where I was standing, I was at the back. When everything fell I was in the middle of the [traps], the rope, the balloons, [and] the rack. Everything was in the water,” said King. King and a crew mate were in the water and caught in a mass of gear on its way to the bottom of the ocean.
Lobster fisherman usually carry Morakniv knives or their equivalent in a plastic sheath on their belt or attached to their suspenders to deal with such circumstances. “I hauled out my knife and cut what I could,” King said.
Freeing themselves from the equipment, was only the first problem King and a crew mate had to contend with. The next step was getting back into the boat before they would succumb to the debilitating effects of hypothermia. But according to King, his crew mate was panicked, swallowing water, and cold water shock had begun setting in. Fueled by adrenaline, King was able to tie a rope around the man who was hauled back into the vessel by the crew still on board.
The father of a 10 year old was in such bad shape, Coast Guard helicopters were dispatched to take him to hospital. “I got my knife and I cut everything off that was hanging off the side of the boat so that we could move because [he] had to be airlifted,” said King.
Though King’s crew mate survived, a 53 year old man perished in a similar incident on a boat that departed that same morning.