Sockeye season spurs salmoner safety

A member from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska, inspects a vessel during a commercial fishing vessel safety exam in Dillingham, June 13, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A member from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska, inspects a vessel during a commercial fishing vessel safety exam in Dillingham, June 13, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery is reported to be the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery with approximately 1,300 vessels registered to participate. This fishery annually provides more than one billion dollars in economic benefit for the state of Alaska, which means it’s vital that crews are prepared for any emergency so they can come home safe. The Coast Guard conducted commercial fishing exams and marine safety training throughout south central Alaska May 30-June 19.

Personnel from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Sector Juneau and Marine Safety Detachment Homer conducted exams, training and community outreach in Sand Point, King Cove, Port Moller, King Salmon/Naknek, Dillingham, Egegik and Togiak to coincide with the beginning of the Sockeye salmon fishery.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Frerichs, Scott Wilwert and Russell Hazlett, members of the Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel exam team, inspect vessel safety gear at the start of the 2015 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Frerichs, Scott Wilwert and Russell Hazlett, members of the Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel exam team, inspect vessel safety gear at the start of the 2015 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“Alaska’s waters get incredibly cold and the weather can turn on you in an instant, so it’s important to have functioning safety equipment and plans in place for how to respond to an emergency at sea,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kate Brinkley, a vessel examiner for Sector Anchorage. “These safety exams become even more important when you consider upcoming changes to regulations that will make them mandatory for any commercial fishing vessel operating beyond three nautical miles from shore.” Vessel safety exams for commercial fishing vessels will become mandatory October 2015 Brinkley added.

Examiners conducted 412 dockside exams during their trip and issued 354 inspection decals to crews who were ready for the fishing season. The decals are valid for up to two years and show Coast Guard and state boarding teams a crew has taken the proper steps to keep safe on the water.

“Two of the most common discrepancies we found were ruined survival suits and expired alcohol test strips,” said Chief Petty Officer Harry Howard, a vessel examiner from Sector Anchorage. “Over time, survival suits can deteriorate from exposure to the elements. The alcohol test strips are required for testing for the presence of alcohol in saliva in the event of any major marine casualty.” The Coast Guard recommends survival suits should be regularly inspected and serviced by an approved facility 10 years after purchase. Alcohol test strips should be replaced with DOT-approved strips once they’ve expired.

The Coast Guard will continue its prevention efforts with trips to remote arctic communities July and August. It’s all part of keeping mariners safe and preserving a way of life that is truly Alaskan.

Starting October 15, 2015, all commercial fishing vessels that fish beyond three nautical miles from the baseline of the U.S. territorial sea will have to maintain valid compliance decals in order to go fishing. More details about the mandatory exams can be found in Marine Safety Information Bulletin 18-14.

Fishermen who wish to schedule dockside exams should visit the Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety website. To prep for the Coast Guard’s visit, fishermen can use the site’s checklist generator to obtain a custom list of safety items required for a particular vessel, based on factors such as the vessel’s size, area of operation and crew compliment.

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