Boat owners should be bracing for a new round of regulations for older boats more than 50 feet in length.
The Alternate Safety Compliance Program, part of the U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010, is due to take effect in 2020, which seemed far into the future when it was first proposed, but is now only a bit more than four years away.
However, the rules have to be written by 2017 in order to give boat owners time to come into compliance.
Boats built before July 15, 1995, an estimated 90 percent of the fleet, will have to be in compliance by 2020, but the problem is that the regulations have not even been written yet. The regulations are supposed to be written with input from industry members, but there has been little outreach so far to commercial fishing organizations, at least in Alaska.
Boats built after 1995 have additional time on a sliding scale of 25 years after construction.
What those regulations will be depends on which part of the country boats are operating in, and which fisheries they are involved in.
In Alaska, tenders, seiners and crab fishermen are mostly being grouped together in terms of risk at this point.
North Pacific Fisheries Association board member Buck Laukitis and others have been trying to sound the alarm about the short amount of time left to write the regulations and the lack of industry input so far.
He prefaced his remarks by praising the Coast Guard.
“I think the Coast Guard and the fishing industry have done a really good job in terms of safety measures,” Laukitis said. “I think we have a good partnership on safety.”
He added that FY2014 was the first year in history that there were no fatalities in the commercial fishing industry in Alaska.
“How can you do any better than that?” he asked.
He questioned whether the proposals are “regulation for the sake of regulation.”
That does not mean there are no improvements to be made, but some of the ideas to increase safety could potentially do the opposite, in addition to being very costly.
One such proposal is to require boats to raise the deck railing and bulwark height to a minimum of 39 inches.
Seiner and NPFA member Matt Alward said that every time the Coast Guard talks about requiring seiners to raise their rail height, boat owners point out that that makes them lift the load of fish they are trying to get aboard that much higher, putting more strain on the rigging and raising the fulcrum point, causing the boat to heel over even farther.
NPFA recently invited USCG 13th District Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator Troy Rentz to Homer recently. Rentz is spearheading the program in Alaska.
“In Homer we basically brought them in so they could look at boats and meet with skippers, and have a conversation about what they’ve been thinking about, and a reaction to that.” Alward said.
Another potentially costly measure is to require a 12-inch coaming height in doors leading to the deck.
“We went and looked at four or five seiners, none of which had a twelve-inch coaming height.”
Alward said that all the skippers who talked to Rentz told him that if the water is up to that height, the boat is gone anyway; a few more inches of coaming is not going to save it.
“I think he got that point. We’ll see once we actually come into workgroups,” he said.
Laukitis pointed out that many of the proposals will add significant costs to the bottom line, such as requiring a GPIRB, which sends a GPS location every 20 minutes, instead of the standard EPRIB, which uses satellite telemetry to fix a location.
“I don’t know what (a GPIRB) is, but I guarantee it costs three or four thousand dollars,” he said.
Another significant cost would be stability reports that would have to be updated regularly, instead of being done only once, at a cost of $3,000 to $20,000 depending on vessel size, according to Laukitis.
Besides safety and structural regulations, there would also be inspections, which cannot necessarily be done by Coast Guard personnel and would have to be done by paid contractors, Laukitis said.
Coast Guardsman Rentz met with boat owners at Fish Expo in Seattle last week to disseminate and gather information about the proposed regulations, attended largely by members of the Alaska Independent Tendermans Association, which has been doing the most to get out ahead of the process.
Rentz said that the Coast Guard is reaching out to other vessel owners associations to get input. He added that they will be announcing meetings up and down the coasts and in Alaska this winter, but dates and times have not been firmed up yet.
He said that the Coast Guard has to have their recommended plan together by January 2017, but the regulations will not be mandatory until 2020.
Fishermen at Expo voiced concerns about smaller boats, just over 50 feet, having to comply with the same regulations as large Bering Sea crabbers or catcher-processors, Rentz said.
“That’s really part of the proposal throughout the country, to kind of go region by region, fleet by fleet and identify risks,” he said. “The tenders indicated that they would like to be grouped separately.”
He added that there are quite a few boats that tender in the summer and crab fish in the winter.
As far as such measures as raising the bulwarks to 39 inches, he said that is just a proposal.
“They put it on as something to talk about; we have further meetings coming up,” he said. “We’re definitely going to consider the input from the captains and owner’s organizations on what they consider to be safe.”
Rentz said the Coast Guard is basically building this program from the ground up, rather than having a law passed by Congress that the Coast Guard is then responsible for enforcing. This measure allows for more industry input prior to the regulations being implemented.
The ASCP matrix that shows the proposed regulations for different vessel types and areas can be found at www.fishsafe.info.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.