A harbor less anchored; Coast Guard vessel examiners pay first visit to Port Moller’s Gentleman’s Fleet

There’s no denying the Coast Guard has an expansive presence in Alaska but, in a land as vast as The Last Frontier, it should be no surprise to learn there are locales rarely visited by the Coast Guard. June 2-5, Coast Guard personnel from Sector Anchorage’s prevention department paid their first-ever visit to Port Moller, the site of a 102-year-old fish cannery with only one or two year-round residents.

Located approximately 100 miles northeast of Cold Bay, Port Moller is home to the “Gentleman’s Fleet,” a flotilla of approximately 40 fishing vessels whose crews travel to the port from all over the U.S. to harvest red and silver salmon every summer. The fleet takes its name from a cordial working relationship cultivated by several generations of crews looking out for one another while fishing out of the port, but that doesn’t mean these princes of the Alaska Peninsula welcomed the Coast Guard with open arms.

“The Coast Guard had never offered fishing vessel exams in Port Moller, so the crews there were more familiar with our maritime law enforcement teams,” said Lt. Rven Garcia, a vessel examiner for the Sector Anchorage prevention department.   “They were expecting us to show up with guns and citations but, after one or two ‘sacrificial lambs’ volunteered for vessel exams, word got around that we were there to help and advise the crews on how to be safe and compliant with regulations.”

Coast Guard Lt. Rven Garcia, a fishing vessel examiner for Sector Anchorage, Alaska, prepares to board a fishing vessel in Port Moller, near Cold Bay June 5, 2015. Coast Guard personnel from the Sector Anchorage prevention department became the first Coast Guardsmen to conduct exams in Port Moller when they visited June 2-5. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by USCG Sector Anchorage

Coast Guard Lt. Rven Garcia, a fishing vessel examiner for Sector Anchorage, Alaska, prepares to board a fishing vessel in Port Moller, near Cold Bay June 5, 2015. Coast Guard personnel from the Sector Anchorage prevention department became the first Coast Guardsmen to conduct exams in Port Moller when they visited June 2-5. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by USCG Sector Anchorage

Garcia and fellow examiner Russ Hazlett didn’t go into Port Moller to simply lay down the law however. Many of Port Moller’s fishermen are 30-40-year veterans of Alaska’s waters and Garcia and Hazlett were open-minded and fair, taking the salty salmoners experience into consideration while conducting their exams.

“The Gentleman’s Fleet is largely made up of guys who were inducted into the fleet by grandfathers, fathers, uncles or friends who came before them,” said Hazlett. “These are guys with decades of passed-down-stories and personal experience to learn from, and they appreciated that we respected that experience. Even though they’d never had an official vessel exam, many of the vessels we examined were either in compliance or only missing a few items off the checklist.”

Fishing vessels line the shipyard of Port Moller near Cold Bay, Alaska, June 3, 2015. The "Gentleman's Fleet" of Port Moller provides red and silver salmon to the 102-year-old cannery that operates for only six months out of the year. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by USCG Sector Anchorage

Fishing vessels line the shipyard of Port Moller near Cold Bay, Alaska, June 3, 2015. The “Gentleman’s Fleet” of Port Moller provides red and silver salmon to the 102-year-old cannery that operates for only six months out of the year. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by USCG Sector Anchorage

Garcia and Hazlett managed to visit 28 vessels during their visit, issuing 22 inspected vessel decals that are valid for two years. They plan to return to Port Moller in 2016 to complete their inspections of the fleet.

“The crews in Port Moller expressed a lot of interest in having us back next year. Russ came up with a system where any crew that wanted an exam should leave a ring buoy on their anchor to signal us but, before the end of our trip, we had crews hunting us down for exams,” said Garcia. “We’re happy we were able to change their perspective on the Coast Guard and change the culture. We look forward to returning.”

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