News Column: COASTAL CURRENTS
Submitted: March 16, 2011
Alan Matherne, Area Agent (Fisheries & Coastal Issues)
Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Assumption Parishes; LSU AgCenter
Fishing vessel safety
With an average fatality rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 fishermen per year, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.
Here in the Gulf of Mexico we had, during the nine year period of 2000-2008, a total of 107 commercial fishermen work-related deaths. The most common cause of deaths was falls overboard. Of the five Gulf States . . . Louisiana, Florida, and Texas had the majority of fatalities (88%). The majority (77%) of fatalities was in the shellfish fisheries, and of those, 72 percent were shrimp fishermen.
Starting with steam vessels back in the 1830s and proceeding through the 1930s-80s, laws were enacted to help protect passengers and crews aboard commercial vessels. The first Fishing Vessel Safety Bill was introduced in 1941, but due to events of December 7th 1941 (attack on Pearl Harbor), this bill was derailed.
With the passage of the “Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Act of 1988″ on September 9, 1988, substantial regulations were enacted to help protect those working aboard commercial fishing vessels. Provisions in the act were designed to provide for fishermen having safety equipment, emergency systems, and a minimum level of training to help them survive a vessel casualty until help could arrive. Since the passage of this law, the number of vessel losses and fatalities occurring each year have been reduced by more than half.
In order to help provide for more safety aboard commercial fishing vessels, the “Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010″ (P.L. 111-281) was signed into law by the President on October 15, 2010. This new law makes significant improvements to the 1988 Act. It adds requirements for training commercial fishing vessel operators and provides for design, construction, and maintenance standards for new vessels.
Some highlights of the new requirements for commercial fishing vessels are:
Parity for all vessels
Uniform safety standards are established for all vessels.
Replacing boundary line with three nautical miles
The boundary line designation was confusing, whereas the three-mile line is a well-known demarcation that is shown on most nautical charts.
“All fishing industry vessels operating beyond three nautical miles are required to carry survival craft that will meet a new performance standard for primary lifesaving equipment.”
The individual in charge of a vessel operating beyond three nautical miles is now required to maintain a safety logbook which includes a record of equipment maintenance and required instruction and drills.
Examinations and certificates of compliance
Vessels operating beyond three nautical miles must undergo dockside safety examinations and obtain certificates of compliance at least once every two years.
Training for operators
Persons in charge of vessels operating beyond three nautical miles must pass a training program covering certain competencies including seamanship, navigation, stability, firefighting, damage control, safety and survival, and emergency drills.
Construction standards for smaller vessels
Vessels less than 50 feet overall in length built after January 1, 2010 must be constructed in a manner that provides a prescribed level of safety (as set forth under 46 U.S.C. 4302 for recreational vessels).
Provides for the assignment of loadline requirements on fishing vessels 79 feet or greater in length that are built after July 1, 2012.
Classing of vessels
Vessels 50 or more feet in overall length built after July 1, 2012 that operate beyond three nautical miles will be subject to survey and classification requirements.
Requires the Coast Guard to establish a “Fishing Safety Training Grants Program” and a “Fishing Safety Research Grant Program”. Renames the current “Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee” to the “Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee”, reauthorizes it until September 30, 2020, and expands the committee to 18 members representing various groups and with particular expertise, knowledge, and experience regarding the commercial fishing industry.
To learn more about the “Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010″ go to BayouLog.com. I have a summary document concerning the new law posted there, along with links to the full bill, analysis, and other sources of commercial fishing vessel safety information.