Plan now for the Alternate Compliance Program for fishing vessels more than 25 years old

There may be some confusion about what commercial fishing vessels are subject to an Alternate Compliance Program (ACP) and what types of safety measures may be addressed by the ACP. I will try to straighten out the record.


Section 604 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, as subsequently amended, requires all commercial fishing vessels that operate more than 3 nautical miles offshore, are more than 50 feet overall in length, and built after June 30, 2013, to be designed and built under standards developed by a classification society approved by the Coast Guard.

But what about vessels built before July 1, 2013?  Shouldn’t there be design and construction standards for those vessels to help prevent capsizings and sinkings?

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 also addressed those vessels – by requiring the Coast Guard to develop an “Alternate Compliance Program”.  It was recognized that the classification societies would not class a vessel in cases where they had not approved the design and had oversight during the construction. The ACP was developed to address that problem by having the Coast Guard establish the standards instead of the class societies. Beginning on January 1, 2020 commercial fishing vessels that are 25-years-old, operate more than 3 nautical miles offshore, are more than 50-feet overall in length, that were built after June 30, 2013 must comply with the ACP.  Scope of ACP:

The scope of the ACP standards is to include all matters that would be covered by classing the vessel – it is an “alternative” to classing.  It includes all matters related to the construction of the vessel – such as hull, machinery, fittings, firefighting equipment, auxiliary machinery, electric installations, stability, water-tight integrity, and crew accommodations. It does not cover PFDs, EPIRBs, radios, and other equipment and training that are otherwise addressed by the law.

Pre-2013 vessels:

Congress also recognized that many existing vessels may have trouble complying with the ACP standards – and that compliance with those standards may result in vessels being tied to the dock because they could not comply.

That is why Congress only applied the ACP to commercial fishing vessels that are more than 25 years old. By that time, the owners should have fully paid off their vessels – and could build a new vessel that would be classed by an approved classification society or they can choose to enroll their vessel in an ACP and comply with its provision that may require extensive upgrades.

Congress specifically required that the Coast Guard develop the ACP standards in cooperation with the fishing industry.  Congress also recognized that the standards that may be appropriate for a vessel in the Bering Sea may not be appropriate for a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico.   Therefore, Congress authorized the Coast Guard to establish ACP standards based upon geographic regions or fisheries.

This is not unlike what Congress passed when enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). At that time, Congress allowed single-hull tankers to continue until they reached their 25th birthday.  After that time – they had to either be retrofitted to comply with the double hull requirements – or be removed from the trade.


Beginning in 2020, the Alternate Compliance Program for commercial fishing vessels applies to a vessel that is 25-years old, operates more than 3 nautical miles offshore, is more than 50-feet in length, and was built before July 1, 2013. .  It is to address all those matters that would be addressed by a class society when they review the design and construction of a new commercial fishing vessel.

The Coast Guard is required by law to prescribe the ACP regulations by January 1, 2017 so that fishing vessel owners will have 3 years to plan and make any modifications necessary to their vessel to comply with the requirements.

2020 may sound like it is a long way off – but it is not. It is very important that the fishing industry, from all areas of the United States and participating in the various fisheries, advise the Coast Guard now on what construction standards they think would be appropriate to make this industry safer.


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