Freshly Launched New Bedford Foundation Aims to Keep Fishermen Safe
NEW BEDFORD — A new charitable foundation in New Bedford is getting started on its mission to keep fishermen safe by supporting the creation of safety standards in one of the most dangerous industries in the country.
Board members yesterday announced the launch of the Seaworthy Foundation, which advocates for safe working conditions on fishing vessels.
The foundation was started by family members of fishermen Michael Roberts and Jonathan Saraiva, who died in December 2017 when their boat, the Misty Blue, sank off the coast of Nantucket.
The families worked with attorneys from New Bedford law firm Flynn|Wirkus|Young to establish the new foundation, which was incorporated earlier this year.
At a press conference Tuesday, attorney and Seaworthy Executive Director Michael Flynn noted that the fishing industry's fatality rate is nearly 30 times higher than the national average.
"It's been a problem that the industry has not addressed," he said. "We read Moby Dick, and it seems like things that Melville wrote about 150 years ago are still happening now."
Flynn noted that in the past hundred years, 348 fishermen have died out of New Bedford alone — and countless more have come back without limbs or fingers, or with head or back injuries that give them chronic pain and other symptoms.
Phil Saraiva, Jonathan's father, also spoke on the occasion.
He said that his son had enjoyed being a fisherman.
"When he was out there, he felt tranquility come upon him, watching the dolphins swim by, and the peace at sea," he said. "And he really did enjoy it. It was his chosen profession. Unfortunately, it was the profession that meant his demise."
"My son would have been out there again today if he didn't pass," he added. "And he could have been out there today, I believe, if some things would change."
As one of its first acts, the Seaworthy Foundation made a matched donation of $30,000 to Fishing Partnership Support Services, a non-profit organization that promotes the health and wellbeing of fishermen and their families.
The newly fledged foundation also made contributions to two other local charities: the historic Seaman's Bethel, run by the New Bedford Port Society, and the Shaw Fund, which gives short-term financial aid to mariners and their families in times of need.
Seaworthy aims to advocate for and educate industry stakeholders in four main areas of focus: equipment and vessel safety standards, mandatory inspection requirements including vessel stability testing, safe work practices, and opioid use.
Flynn noted that fishermen don't get workers comp, and there is no safety training or industrial hygiene standards on the vessels.
"It is a floating factory, yet there is no safety culture out there," he said.
And when an accident or injury does happen, there is little recourse for someone with chronic pain who needs to feed their family other than prescription painkillers, which can lead to opioid dependency.
"Almost every fisherman or fisherwoman that I've ever met is in pain," Flynn said.
As for concerns that new safety regulations will just add to the burden on the industry, he said, "That is precisely the point — there's more attention paid to the scallops on the bottom of the ocean than the guys that are pulling them up on the deck."