Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel exam team helps Bristol Bay fishermen

MSU Kodiak commercial fishing vessel safety examinationANCHORAGE, Alaska — Marine safety personnel from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Coast Guard Sector Juneau and Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Homer conducted exams, training and community outreach in Sand Point, King Cove, Port Moller, King Salmon, Naknek, Dillingham, Egegik and Togiak at the start of the 2015 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery.

The Bristol Bay fishery is touted as 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. The thousands of fishermen who venture onto the water can mitigate the risk inherent in their jobs by following federal commercial fishing vessel safety regulations.

Between May 30 and June 19, the Coast Guard team in Bristol Bay conducted 412 dockside exams during their three-week deployment and issued 354 compliance decals to crews who met all safety standards and were ready for the fishing season. The decals are valid for up to two years. Coast Guard and State of Alaska law enforcement boarding teams who see a valid decal on a vessel often choose to skip that vessel and concentrate their efforts on other vessels that do not have valid decals. The decal benefits fishermen who took the time to voluntarily undergo a dockside exam:  they avoid having to temporarily suspend their fishing operations to accommodate an involuntary underway Coast Guard boarding.

“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 serious marine incident.”

The Coast Guard recommends that survival suits be regularly inspected and serviced by an approved facility starting 10 years after manufacture. DOT-approved alcohol test strips should be replaced once they’ve expired.

“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 Sector Anchorage commercial fishing vessel safety examiner. “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.”

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, available at

Fishermen who wish to schedule dockside exams should visit the Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety website at 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.

For more information about Alaska commercial fishing vessel exams please contact Russell Hazlett at (907) 428-4154.

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