Coast Guard reminds Bristol Bay salmon fishers to be ready for sea

KODIAK, Alaska – Are your ready for sea? The Coast Guard will offer courtesy dockside examinations of commercial fishing vessels in Bristol Bay in anticipation of the 2010 Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which is slated to begin June 1 with the majority of the fishing taking place from June 15 to July 15.

The Coast Guard anticipates sending examiners to Dillingham and King Salmon on June 9 to begin public outreach and encourage dockside exam participation June 10 thru June 19. The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) will host drill conductor classes to facilitate compliance with drill conductor requirements and improve the quality of onboard emergency drills

The Coast Guard will also be working with the Alaska State Troopers on the enforcement side to ensure the fishery is carried out safely.

Examiners will be going from boatyard to boatyard in the King Salmon, Dillingham, and surrounding locations to conduct exams. The signal used to indicate a vessel is ready for an exam will be to run a Ring Buoy up high on the mast in a highly visible location. Fishermen can also sign up for an exam by calling Sector Anchorage, at (907) 271-6700, or by speaking directly with one of the Coast Guard examiners working in Dillingham and King Salmon’s harbors.

These free exams give fishermen an opportunity to find and address any safety issues that may be present before they get underway. The examiners will not issue fines or other penalties for any problems they discover at the dock. The exams focus on safety and address items such as flares, charts, navigational signals, fire extinguishers, emergency position indicating locator beacons and the serviceability of immersion suits to name a few.

“It’s far more desirable to find your immersion suit has a leak when you’re five feet from shore than in the open ocean,” said Charlie Medlicott, commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator Western Alaska.

The number of lives lost during Alaska fisheries has been in decline since the adoption of the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988. The leading cause of fatalities in the commercial fishing industry is drowning due to the loss of a fishing vessel. However, man overboards are still a serious concern. The extremely cold temperatures of Alaskan waters coupled with weather conditions and vast distances from shore are a deadly combination.

Of the 641 deaths that occurred among fishermen in the United States from 1994 to 2004, 138 (30 percent) resulted from a fall overboard. In a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analysis of Alaska fishing fatalities from 1990 to 2005, the rate of fatal falls overboard did not decrease despite a significant decrease in the overall rate of commercial fishing fatalities.

It is recommended that all fishermen wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) when on the deck of any vessel. There are more types and styles of PFDs available now than ever before, with several styles to fit the needs of commercial fishermen, including several new slim, lightweight, inflatable PFDs that are worn like suspenders and PFDs that are integrated into raingear.

Each vessel that passes a dockside exam earns a decal. Fishermen operating vessels with recently-issued decals benefit by being less likely to have to suspend fishing operations to accommodate an at-sea Coast Guard or Alaska State Trooper law enforcement boarding.

Coast Guard enforcement assets will be on scene during the opener and into the season to ensure the safety of all vessels working on the water. The Alaska State Troopers will be running fisheries enforcement operations concurrently with the Coast Guard. Again enforcement will focus on, but is not limited to, non-decaled vessels.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total sockeye salmon run of 39.77 million fish with a commercial harvest of 31.76 million. The Coast Guard anticipates a fleet participation of up to 1100 vessels.

Additional information regarding the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries can be found at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game website.

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