Coast Guard forward deploys helicopters to reduce response time to Opilio crab fleet

KODIAK, Alaska - An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter predeployed to St. Paul Island from Air Station Kodiak is readied for a flight February 2010. The Coast Guard forward deploys to St. Paul in January to reduce the response distance to a possible incident during the increased crab fishing activity. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Solomon.
USCG MH-60 Jayhawk file photo

KODIAK, Alaska – Coast Guard helicopter crews from Kodiak are deploying to the Bering Sea to better safeguard the crab fleet and other fishing vessels engaged in ground fisheries throughout the winter months.

Due to an increased number of vessels operating in the region, the Coast Guard is forward deploying two MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopters and crews Saturday from Air Station Kodiak to St. Paul to provide a more rapid response should the need arise.

“Winter in the Bering Sea is a combination of the harshest weather and most activity,” said Capt. Bark Lloyd, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District, “In the case of an emergency, critical response hours are significantly reduced by forward deploying aircraft to St. Paul.”

A high endurance cutter will also be in the region ready to respond with an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and a safety examiner from Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak.

Opilio crab season has been open since Oct. 15, 2010, however most boats fish for Opilio crab in January. This is due in part to shore side processors schedules for products and the fall push for Bering Sea Red King crab.

The Marine Safety Detachments in Kodiak and Unalaska conducted safety training with the crab fleets in the fall and did the majority of the voluntary fishing vessel safety exams then. Over the past month examiners have conducted another five fishing vessel safety exams and 10 safety spot checks.

“The Coast Guard continues to vigorously stress the importance of exercising good maritime practices and compliance with safety standards,” said Capt. Adam Shaw, chief of prevention for the Coast Guard 17th District. “The dockside safety examination services offered to commercial fishing vessel owners and operators are especially relevant given our extreme maritime environment and geographic remoteness.”

While examiners still look at vessel stability books and ensure pots are stacked within the guidelines laid out in those books, it has been about five years since examiners found a vessel to be overloading themselves with crab pots. Expired safety equipment, expired EPIRB batteries and expired life raft hydrostatic releases are the most common discrepancies found during Coast Guard safety checks. All deficiencies are confirmed corrected prior to the vessels getting underway. The Coast Guard reminds all mariners to carry EPIRBs and ensure they are registered correctly.

The Coast Guard is hosting bi-weekly teleconferences through which partners in enforcement, safety and management representatives from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers can exchange information and assist each other with logistical and operational challenges.

Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska is also conducting exams on fishing vessels participating in the Pollock “A” season which opens Jan. 20.

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