Will your commercial fishing vessel be tied to the dock in October?

On October 15, 2015 the Coast Guard will begin dockside enforcement of the safety requirements enacted by Congress in the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988.

These requirements, such as immersion suits, training, cold water survival, have been the law for over 25 years.  However, a 2011 study funded by Maine Sea Grant and NOAA that is titled “Occupational Safety and Compliance in the Maine Commercial Fishing Industry: Status Report and Policy Recommendations“ indicates that a majority of fishing vessel captains in their survey did NOT have the required training. For example, 66% had never taken any life raft training and 59% had not received any immersion suit training. Only 54% of the commercial fishing vessels had the required Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).

The study found that –

 “Despite the existence of the safety equipment items noted in the questionnaire, conversations with the captains revealed that in many cases the captains were unfamiliar with the proper use of that equipment. Some also had a difficult time locating it. Although present onboard, the safety equipment would neither have been accessible nor useful during the emergency situations for which they were intended. There was also a problem with broken or expired safety equipment, such as leaky survival suits, malfunctioning flares and horns, and first aid kits with few useable items remaining in them.”

The survey results indicated that “Maine captains surveyed generally reported being risk-loving rather than risk-averse in their daily lives” and that a significant majority felt that “driving a car was more dangerous than fishing”.

If the survey in Maine is any indicator of commercial fishing vessel operations nationally, there is a shipwreck coming in October – and the vessel owners and Coast Guard need to begin preparations to head it off.

The Coast Guard requested legal authority to conduct dockside exams because it was safer and more effective for all those involved.  Now they need to begin walking the docks and educating the fishing vessel owners about the October 15th deadline for complying with a 27 year old law.

A partnership between the Coast Guard and the fishing vessel community will make the dockside examination program a success.  If this is viewed and implemented the way local home construction inspectors work with the builder and homeowner to ensure they have a safe home then all parties will be satisfied with the process and outcome – and vessels won’t be tied to the dock unable to fish.

The Maine study can be found at this link.

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2 comments

  • How can I still be surprised by fishermen’s casual approach to safety? It’s improving, but we are certainly not there yet.

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    • Dear Peggy, it is a slow and monumental task to change the culture of safety in the commercial fishing industry. However, as a Marine Safety Instructor working with the original New Bedford safety program and now the Fishing Partnership we are experiencing more and more industry participants for our extensive day long hands-on training. This program will be 10 years this October and we have trained more than 3000 mariners. Just back from Maine where I attended and instructed an AMSEA MSIT course with industry taking the course to instruct and spread the word. Wishing you and your family all the best, Fred Mattera

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