Exams again voluntary for some vessels

Coast Guard safety inspections on most vessels traveling more than three nautical miles from shore that had been voluntary but were then made mandatory in October 2012 now appear to be voluntary again for another two years as a result of the recently signed Coast Guard authorization bill in Washington, D.C.

While Bering Sea crab boats and any vessel that carries a federal observer must have the decal that comes with a successful safety exam, those decals will now be good for five years instead of two.

Vessels for which the exam has been voluntary will not be required to get them now until January 2015.

Ken Lawrenson, the Coast Guard’s fishing vessel safety coordinator in Alaska, explained to KFSK public radio: “The authorization act for the Coast Guard for 2010 mandated mandatory dockside exams for certain commercial fishing vessels, the ones that were fishing more than three nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline and that was going to take effect on the 16th of October, 2012. Here at the last minute before the Christmas break, both houses of the Congress passed and the President signed the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation act of 2012 and part of the effect of that was to delay the implementation of those mandatory exams into October of 2015.” 

Lawrenson estimated more than half of Alaska vessels that fish more than 3 miles offshore have already participated in the voluntary exams and received the safety decal over the years, “mainly because, first of all, they recognize that it’s a good idea because of the unforgiving, harsh nature of the marine environment up here as well as those vessels. ”

According to Lawrenson, participation in the voluntary program has been less frequent among vessels that operate within three miles of shore in Alaska. He estimated only about 15 to 20 percent of boats in that category have received the decal. Still, he encourages fishermen to get the decal whether or not it’s required.

“It’s always a good thing, I think, to put an extra set of eyeballs looking at the safety and training of the crew. That’s certainly an important component of survival out here. It’s a dangerous business. We all kind of accept that but that doesn’t mean there’s not an obligation, I think, to do what should be done and certainly having the Coast Guard on board and establishing that relationship is, I think, part of the expectation for most reasonable folks,” he said. 

For a safety equipment checklist generator specific to your vessel size, visit http://www.uscg.mil/d13/cfvs/.


Alaska’s U.S. Senate delegation continues to fight the Food and Drug Administration’s plans to allow production and sale of so-called “Frankenfish,” a genetically modified farmed salmon that grows to marketable size two to three times faster than regular farmed salmon.

In opening statements at a hearing last month, Sen. Mark Begich, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries, said,  “The notion that consuming Frankenfish is safe for the public and our oceans is a joke. I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects.” 

Sen. Begich has been protesting against the FDA’s march in favor of genetically modified salmon since he came to the Senate. Begich is calling on all Alaskans to participate in the ongoing public comment period and let the FDA know how they feel about Frankenfish. 

With what Begich calls “loose” findings that the modified fish are “unlikely” to harm the environment, the FDA draft Environmental Assessment is a step toward approving genetically modified salmon for sale in the United States. 

Alaska is the world’s largest producer of wild, sustainably harvested salmon, and farmed fish already takes a significant toll on that market, especially among consumers who are not educated about the difference.

“People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon,” Begich said. “Today’s assessment by the FDA imperils families and fisherman.” 

One of the biggest concerns about the GM fish is that the FDA is not going to require it to be labeled as such, creating concerns that the consumer’s right to know what they’re buying and eating is being ignored.

“The FDA shouldn’t be making decisions on marine fisheries,” Begich said. “Today’s report is by no means the final say on this issue. I will continue to fight hard against these genetic mutations whose only purpose is purely for profit. Americans deserve to know the health and environmental superiority of wild Alaska seafood and not be fooled into thinking GE fish is somehow equivalent.” 

The 2007 FDA reauthorization act required a report to Congress on the potential impacts of genetically modified fish on the environment generally. They have yet to submit a written report to Congress. 

Public opposition to the approval of Frankenfish is strong. Last year, 93 groups representing fishermen, consumers and others signed a letter in opposition to the Frankenfish proposal. Polling data suggests even broader rejection of genetically modified salmon among potential consumers. 

So far, 3,200 comments have been submitted to the FDA regarding the fish, and not a single one has been in favor of approval for human consumption.

Visit http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/ContactFDA/CommentonRegulations/default.htm for instructions and comment link.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.