Editorial: Fish Safer
Accidents happen, especially in the commercial fishing industry.
In January of this year, three fishermen were lost after their fishing vessel Eagle III capsized in 30 mph winds and 10-foot seas and broke up along North Jetty near Coos Bay, Oregon.
Four days later, five fishermen were rescued after the 65-foot fishing vessel Captain John took on water and sank 30 miles outside of La Push, Washington. A 47-foot Motor Life Boat crew recovered the fishermen from their life raft and brought them back to shore without medical concerns.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Brazier, command duty officer at Sector Puget Sound, noted that the fishermen survived because they were able to communicate their situation and board an available life raft.
In February, the Coast Guard terminated a commercial fishing voyage near Anacortes after a routine boarding found multiple safety violations. The 30-foot crabbing vessel Malia was ordered to correct deficiencies including lack of boat registration or a throwable life ring on board, only one of two required fire extinguishers and only one life jacket, youth-sized, rather than two adult life jackets required for a two-man crew.
In March, three commercial fishing vessels in Puget Sound were ordered to return to port with multiple safety violations, including:
The 27-foot Wendy Sue with several safety discrepancies, including insufficient fire extinguishers, no documentation and no sound-producing device.
A boat in Semiahmoo Bay cited for having insufficient fire extinguishers on board and insufficient visual distress signals.
A boat near Edmonds, Washington with no personal floatation devices, an insufficient number of fire extinguishers, insufficient visual distress signals and no registration on board.
Also in March, crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Bellingham rescued three men from 48-degree water and 5-foot seas after the 57-foot fishing vessel Bergen washed onto the rocks in Squalicum Harbor.
The three men were safely transported to Station Bellingham, although one was taken for medical care after exhibiting signs of hypothermia. The vessel had broken away from the pier and was washed onto the rocks and sinking. Rescue personnel arrived on scene and found the three men clinging to the sinking vessel, two of whom were wearing immersion suits.
Later that month the master of the fishing trawler Patty A J was lost when his vessel capsized between the Coos Bay Bar jetties near Charleston, Oregon.
In April a Coast Guard aircrew from Air Facility Newport rescued a man from a capsized boat about a mile west of Devil’s Punchbowl State Park.
“He was wearing his lifejacket when the boat capsized and that allowed him to stay above the surface and then climb onto the boat,” said Lt. j.g. Dustin Brecher, Dolphin helicopter pilot. “If the life jacket didn’t directly save his life, then it put him in a position to be rescued.”
Later that week a Coast Guard Motor Life Boat crew rescued three fishermen after their vessel sank less than one mile outside of Grays Harbor, Washington.
The crew of the 74-foot fishing vessel Privateer had called watchstanders stating they were taking on water through an 8-to-12-inch hole, deploying their life raft and donning immersion suits preparing to abandon ship.
“It was clear the fishing crew had conducted drills and were prepared for an emergency,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Hylkema, coxswain of the MLB. “They had marine VHF radios, a life raft and immersion suits. It was a terrifying situation, but their actions proved they were ready.”
Accidents happen. While it’s impossible to protect yourself and your crew from all the dangers inherent in going to work in the Pacific Ocean, there are steps you can take to improve your odds.
Please make sure your safety equipment is present and functioning, and that your crew is trained in its deployment and use.
Take advantage of the safety courses offered by Compass Courses, Fremont Maritime Services, North Pacific fishing vessel Owners Association (NPFVOA) and the Alaska Marine Safety Training Association (AMSEA). The various Sea Grant programs offer regular refresher courses as well.
And drill, drill, drill. A prepared fisherman is a safer fisherman.