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No one’s life is worth a fish

"Fascination out of Sitka, Alaska / Comme...
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Posted by: PA3 Jonathan Lally

Around the country, members of the Coast Guard are dedicated to ensuring commercial fishing vessel crews have all the proper safety equipment before getting underway. Coast Guard personnel at sectors, marine safety units and marine safety detachments conduct voluntary safety examinations for the commercial fleets throughout the U.S.

The Coast Guard District 17 commercial fishing vessel safety program is in place to safeguard fishermen in the commercial industry operating in the federal and state fisheries of Alaska. Supporting those Coast Guardsmen who enforce the program’s goals and regulations is Ken Lawrenson. He is the commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator for Coast Guard District 17. He has been involved in commercial fishing vessel safety for about 10 years.

“Saving lives, that’s our top priority,” said Lawrenson. “Commercial fishing vessel safety is all about reducing the risks of losing lives at sea.”

Lawrenson has three goals he wants to accomplish for 2012. The first goal is to maintain the current level of dockside examinations and safety compliance checks. The second goal is for Coast Guard units and the commercial fishing vessel industry to become prepared for the implementation of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. Finally, Lawrenson is working to continue an outreach with commercial fishing areas in Western and Northern Alaska.

For the outreach, District 17 personnel work alongside the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office Community Development Quota Program and Native groups. The goal is to engage and increase the Native groups’ level of safety.

Lawrenson helps to enforce the regulations in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. This requires any commercial fishing vessel operating outside of a three nautical mile radius to have a mandatory safety examination. However, all commercial fishing vessel safety inspections are currently voluntary.

“We’re anticipating some interim regulations to put into place later this year that will mandate parts of the authorization act,” said Lawrenson. “For example, one of the regulations would require all commercial vessels working beyond the three nautical operating boundary lines to have mandatory safety exams. This will be good for about two years.”

District 17 personnel anticipate enforcing these new regulations for more than 3,000 commercial fishing vessels in the fleet. Due to the volume of vessels and some of the remote locations for some of the vessels, district staff members are refining plans to help maintain a high level of safety for the commercial fishing industry in Alaska.

The Coast Guard’s primary mission is to ensure the safety of life at sea. The hope is that through prevention there is less need for response.

“A fisherman once told me, ‘No one’s life is worth a fish,’ and I agree completely,” said Lawrenson. “At the end of the day, commercial fishing vessel safety is about ensuring everyone comes home alive and safe.”