Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 7:32 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coast Guard offers free dockside safety exam

As a flurry of boats go in the water over the next month, the U.S. Coast Guard is reminding skippers that making sure their safety equipment is up to date is as important as remembering to bring bait along.

The Coast Guard offers a free, no-fault commercial fishing vessel dockside safety exam that could save lives as well as a potential ticket if an at-sea boarding turns up missing or out-of-date equipment.

"There are a number of reasons to get a dockside exam, all of which are good," said Coast Guard Safety Officer Ken Lawrenson. "First and foremost probably is so that you'll know you're in compliance so it won't be a surprise if you get boarded."

Dockside safety exams are fairly thorough, Lawrenson said.

"They're basically looking at all the safety carriage requirements, the survival craft and survival suits, flares, fire extinguishers, the EPIRBS, they'll take a quick look at the vessel to make sure there aren't any especially hazardous conditions that would cause that vessel to be terminated if it got boarded at sea. Then they'll go down through the minutia as well."

Minutia includes having the proper placards with instructions for disposal and/or storage of garbage, accidental oil discharge and injury reporting, as well as having a noise-making device for use in fog, such as a bell or air horn, along with proper vessel documentation.

Having a dockside boarding could reduce the odds of an at-sea boarding, according to Lawrenson.

"All things being equal, if there's a choice between two fishing vessels to board, and one of them has a valid (safety) decal and one does not, the vessel that does not have the decal way more often than not is going to get the boarding," he said.

When the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010 is implemented, dockside safety exams will be mandatory every two years, and it is likely that an exam now will still be valid when those rules take effect, although the process is a bit drawn out.

Lawrenson said that although Congress made the act law, it instructed the Coast Guard to make the regulations.

"None of those things can be enforced by the Coast Guard until we go through a rule-making process," he said. "There's going to have to be ample opportunity for the public and for the industry to comment on those proposed rules, and that's going to take a little while because of the administrative procedures act and the rule-making process."

That process is ongoing.

"For some of the easier parts of this, some of the very well-defined nuts and bolts pieces of the law, we could see implemented in fairly short order," he said, including the mandatory dockside exams.

He said the Coast Guard's goal for implementing the dockside exam portion of the regulation for vessels that fish beyond three miles from shore is October 2012 at the latest. Exams conducted before that time would be valid under the new rule, meaning that vessels that get their decals now could beat the rush for a certificate of compliance.

Vessel owners on the Kenai Peninsula can call the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Kenai at (907) 283-3292 to schedule a dockside exam. Other areas can fill out a form at www.fishsafe.info/ contactform.htm.

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission has reactivated its board of directors in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that devastated its fishing industry and caused heavy damage to fleets in Oregon and Northern California.

AFIRM is offering its services to assist and coordinate the efforts being made by fishermen, processors, transportation and financial segments of the seafood industry from Alaska, the West Coast and their respective offshore federal waters, to provide aid to the fishing communities affected by the disaster.

"Japan is Alaska's largest trading partner, with the majority consisting of Alaska seafood. In one way or another, everyone involved in any aspect of the seafood industry in Alaska and the West Coast has strong ties and relationships with Japan." said Larry Cotter, AFIRM's chair.

AFIRM's previous accomplishments include sending a 16-ton travel lift to Louisiana after hurricanes Katrina and Rita stranded thousands of fishing vessels far inland, and sending ice-making equipment to replace the equipment vital to fishing operations that was destroyed in the hurricanes.

The organization is all volunteer, so 100 percent of donations go the affected fishing communities. Donations are also tax-deductible.

For more about AFIRM or to donate, visit www.akjapanhelp.org/index.htm.

The Gloucester Times is reporting that $400 million that should have been used to promote seafood caught or farmed in the United States has instead been diverted for years to cover operating costs at NOAA and NMFS.

Under the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, Congress mandated that 60 percent of a revenue stream collected from a tariff on imported seafood was to be used for domestic promotion. According to a Congressional Research Service report examined by the Times, that figure has never been reached, and since 2007 the actual amount has been closer to 10 percent.

The diversion of the money was a congressional decision, not the choice of NOAA, said Gary Reisner, CFO of NOAA Fisheries in an interview with the Times.

In March 2004, NMFS announced it was closing down the competitive grants program for seafood marketing through the fund, citing insufficient funding.

However, two months earlier, while gearing up his the reelection campaign, George W. Bush signed legislation carrying earmarks that distributed at least $15.5 million from the Saltonstall-Kennedy program.

The earmarks included one for $10 million from the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, according to a report to Congress in May 2004 by the Congressional Research Service of The Library of Congress.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.