Coast Guard, state agencies keep vigilant eye on 2010 Bering Sea crab fleet

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

With an increased number of vessels operating in the region, the Coast Guard will again forward deploy two MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crews Saturday from Air Station Kodiak to St. Paul to provide a more rapid response should the need arise.

By forward deploying aircraft to St. Paul, Coast Guard aircrews eliminate a six hour transit from Kodiak plus an hour refueling stop from the time of initial response to any distressed mariners, critical hours in most situations. Winter is the busiest time of year for fishing activity in the Bering Sea under some of the worst weather conditions.

An Alaska-based cutter will be on patrol in the region ready to respond during the Bering Sea fisheries as well.

From October through March, the Coast Guard hosts bi-monthly teleconferences through which enforcement, safety and management reps 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.

Currently there are a number of longliners on the northern portion of the 100 fathom curve pursuing Pacific Cod and Greenland Turbot. There are also numerous pot boats harvesting Pacific cod near Slime Bank. Some of these boats will change their target species to Opilio crab.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game 92 vessels are registered for the Opilio crab fishery. Of those, 35 vessels have checked in with the Coast Guard and verified plans to fish.

Opilio crab season has been open since Oct. 15, 2009, however most boats still 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 10 fishing vessel safety exams and six safety spot checks.

Expired safety equipment, expired EPIRB batteries and expired liferaft 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.

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.

The Marine Safety Detachment in Kodiak is also conducting exams and spot checks on some of the 48 fishing vessels registered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the Tanner crab fishery. Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska is conducting exams on fishing vessels participating in the Pollock “A” season which opens Jan. 20. They are also conducting annual exams on the fleet that subscribes to the Alternate Safety Compliance Agreement.

The Coast Guard strongly urges Alaskan mariners using Loran-C currently for navigation to shift to a GPS navigation system and become familiar with its operation. Mariners will not be able to rely on Loran-C for navigation as of Feb. 8, 2010.

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