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After The Accident – What I Am Doing Differently
by Jason Lemos, lobster fisherman — Edited by Ann Backus, MS

This column was named “Voice of Safety” because we wanted to be able to present different voices on the topic of fishing safety. In the May issue of Fisherman’s Voice we incorporated text provided by Ron Brown regarding his “wedding ring” design for keeping the stuffing box tight. For this issue, we are privileged to have an open letter to fellow lobstermen by Jason Lemos from his perspective as a fisherman who survived being entangled in a buoy-line and pulled overboard while lobstering on Oct 31, 2006. The U.S. Coast Guard gave a Certificate of Merit to Jason’s rescuer, Michael Gardner, on May 18, 2007 in New Castle.

To my fellow lobstermen, I would like to speak about the accident I had on October 31, 2006 and about the changes that I have made and incorporated into this lobster season. It has taken me some time to decide to write the articles about my accident. I survived for a reason and have decided that it is important for me to share this information so that others in the industry may learn from it. Someday it may help save someone in a same or similar situation.

It has now been eight months since the accident that almost claimed my life. I have fully recovered and have no physical after-effects from the accident. I am back at it, lobster fishing this season and have decided to carry on doing what I love. The mental effects of what I went through will always be there for the rest of my life. I do have to note that another side effect that I have noticed is some memory loss. At times it does seem to take a little longer to comprehend some things.

It has been a slow start to the 2007 lobster season off the NH coast, but there is still hope that the summer and fall fishing season will be a great one this year. With the spring being not so promising and the high fuel and bait costs, I held back from setting traps in until the first week in June. This is by far the latest that I recall putting traps into the water. The delay in the start of fishing gave me the chance to make changes to my fishing boat, a 26' Duffy.

Jason Lemos, New Hampshire lobsterman who was dragged overboard last October. His body temperature went down to 84 degrees after one and a half hours clinging to a float. The experience has led him to change the way he fishes. The Plante knife sheath is one of the survival tools, another is survival training. Nancy Lemos photo
This spring I made the rounds speaking to relatives and friends about their boats and looking at the way that they haul their gear and set it back. One of the most important things for me this season was to minimize how much I touch the buoy and end line, after the traps have gone off the boat. I looked at boats with closed sterns, with trawl tables, and with cut-out sterns. After looking at a number of set ups, I came across one that relative was using. He had fabricated a piece of stainless steel tube that was sealed closed at one end that he places at an angle against the rail of the non-hauling side of the boat. The trawl buoy is then placed in it and as the last trap goes off, the force of the line pulls the buoy from the tube and launches it a fashion similar to a cannon going off. This eliminates having to throw the end line and buoy over-board. The only thing that you touch is that first trap that you push off the boat. I have fabricated my version of this by using a piece of drainage pipe and closing the end with fiberglass.

I now wear a knife on my skins and have mounted one permanently in the stern. Until the accident I was not an advocate for wearing a knife on my skins. Growing up you would see some fishermen who would try to attach a knife and sheath to their skins but the most common complaint was that the knife got in the way or would fall out of the sheath. The Plante knife design that I now wear on my skins solves these issues. We are now starting to see more fishermen wearing these.

Another thing I always wear is a pant belt around my waist. When Michael Gardner pulled me from the sea into his boat, he grabbed my belt. It was my belt that made it possible for Michael to pick me up; I was limp and helpless after having been in the cold water for 90 minutes. It is hard to realize how something as simple as a belt could be so important, until you experience an event such I did. We tend to follow what other fishermen do and if one person is wearing a belt, the others will tend to follow the practice.

Some have asked me if I will ever fish alone or will always bring along a sternman. I know there will still be occasions when it will not be feasible to have a helper. The days that I do go out alone, I will wear a personal EPIRB. This will allow the Coast Guard to locate me quickly if I get tangled in rope on the boat, or land in the water.

This season I decided to fish 10 trap trawls instead of eight trap trawls, as I did last season in order to be more efficient with my time. To accommodate this change to 10 traps, I extended my trawl table. The extended table allows me to control the traps a bit longer.

In late April I had the chance to take the McMillan Offshore Safety Survival Training course. This course proved to be very beneficial; I picked up some additional cold-water survival techniques. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend that you take a course like this. How many fellow lobstermen have taken their survival suit out of the bag and put it on? Whether you fish out of an 18’ skiff or 42’ boat if you are out there commercial fishing this is a course that you should look into taking. It is a day well spent. In past generations, safety practices were passed down, or we learned from watching how other fishermen did things. With the ever-changing conditions of our industry and the new technology that we have, the old way of doing things may still work, but there are new ways that will help us in the event we find ourselves in a dreadful situation.

I am saddened to hear about the number of fellow lobstermen lost each year in the industry. My thoughts and prayers are with their families. I am one of the lucky ones. I survived and am able to pass along what I have learned and hope that others can learn from it. If you are ever put into a life-threatening situation you must not panic. This is one of the hardest things to do, and it is very difficult to compose yourself and to calm any crew member as well. I survived the frigid cold New England coast waters for an hour and a half and kept on fighting as I stared down death. In a situation like this, your initial thoughts are that you are going to die but you must put mind over matter and fight on. If you are ever pulled from your boat into the waters do not take off your lobster gear. That you should take off your gear is one of the biggest misconceptions in our industry. The day I went in I had on a pair of Grunden oilskins and a Guy Cotton fleece coat. I left all this gear on and was surprised at how buoyant I was with it on. These clothes helped keep my body core temperature up.

Lobster fishing can be one of the most deadly jobs and yet can be peaceful and rewarding with the thrill of what the catch will be that day. I fought against all odds to survive that day and won. I never ever thought that I would be one of the ones to encounter such a trying event, live to talk about it, and pass on my experiences to other fellow fisherme

\Here’s to safe and prosperous year, Jason Lemos