Coast Guard gives annual report on West Coast activities
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Thirteenth and Eleventh Districts gave their annual presentation to the Council in June. Some highlights are provided below; see the full report.
In 2018, there were 877 fisheries boardings and 11 significant fisheries violations in West Coast waters. About a third of the boardings were on commercial fishing vessels, while the rest were on recreational and charter boats. Specific examples include a commercial fishing boat operating illegally in the Cape Perpetua Marine Protected Area, a crab boat deploying gear before the official start of the season, eight halibut aboard a vessel without a commercial fishing license, a tuna troller refusing to respond to the Coast Guard, a salmon troller retaining 18 salmon during a closed season, and an assault on a female crewmember while under the influence.
Many of the Coast Guard’s most effective efforts are the result of working collaboratively with partners from NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Treaty Tribes, and California, Oregon, and Washington state fisheries enforcement personnel. For example, in May, seven Coast Guard Patrol Boats along with NOAA Law Enforcement, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon State Police conducted an interagency operation focused on the salmon opener, boarding 92 commercial and recreational boats.
In addition to fisheries enforcement, the Coast Guard has an active Marine Protected Species protection program. In 2018, Districts 11 and 13 participated in 12 marine protected species response operations, including locating and helping to free entangled whales and responding to Marine Mammal Protection Act violations. The Coast Guard also participated in efforts to protect southern resident killer whales, review stranding protocols, and provide outreach to the public on interacting with Puget Sound killer whales.
One of the Coast Guard’s primary objectives in working with the Council is to identify ways to improve the safety of all fishing activity. In 2018, four lives were lost from West Coast commercial fishing vessels. This is lower than the average from the preceding ten-year period (6 lives lost per year).
In February 2018, a 48’ wood crab vessel with three people on board, fishing 8 nautical miles (nm) off Humboldt Bay, had two crewmen on deck fall overboard. One person was retrieved quickly and brought back onboard by the master. Despite exhaustive search efforts, the other person was not located and the search was suspended.
In May 2018, a crabber’s family reported his vessel overdue from a fishing trip off the southern Washington coast. The Coast Guard conducted multiple air, surface, and shore searches, eventually locating a sheen in the water inside Willapa Bay. While the Coast Guard continued to search for the crabber, the Pacific and Clark County Sheriff’s searched the Bay with divers and sonar, locating the submerged vessel. The search was suspended.
In September 2018, a 32’ fiberglass troller with two persons on board had one person fall overboard 3 nm off Bodega Bay. Despite an extensive search, the crewmember was not found.
In October 2018, a 40’ fiberglass troller in Dana Point was found with the master onboard deceased due to natural causes.
In addition to these losses of life, further examples of significant safety incidents on commercial fishing vessels are summarized below.
In addition to these four lives lost, there were four fires, 19 vessel floodings or sinkings, 11 medical incidents, 12 groundings, four collisions, and 60 incidents of loss of propulsion:
- In April 2018, a 48’ steel crab vessel 5 nm off Trinidad had a fire in crew berthing due to an unknown cause that quickly spread to the pilothouse. All five crewmembers abandoned ship into the vessel’s life raft and were rescued with no injuries. Vessel was salvaged.
- In February 2018, a 36’ wood troller began taking on water from loose planks 3 nm west of Mendocino. The vessel’s pumps were unable to keep up with flooding, and the two persons onboard abandoned ship to a Coast Guard motor lifeboat. The vessel sank.
- In June 2018, a 28’ salmon troller suffered an engine casualty while passing outbound across the Coos Bay Bar and subsequently grounded on the North Spit. The owner was able to safely get off his boat, and the troller refloated at the next high tide.
- In August 2018, a 56’ fiberglass vessel with one man and a dog ran aground off Santa Cruz in Monterey Marine Sanctuary. The man and his dog made it safely ashore with no injuries. The vessel broke up in the surf and was a total loss.
- In November 2018, a 36’ fiberglass crabber had a crewmember hit in the head with a crab pot 7 nm off the Golden Gate Bridge. The crewmember was transferred to a patrol boat and then to awaiting paramedics on shore.
- In August 2018, a Canadian tuna troller and a U.S. tuna troller collided more than 100 nm west of Newport, OR. Both vessels were able to proceed under their own power to Newport, where the Coast Guard boarded both vessels.
In February 2018, during the first month of Dungeness crab season, Coast Guard units in Washington and Oregon responded to 28 incidents of vessels losing propulsion, steering, or other casualties. Many of these responses involved crossing hazardous breaking bars and required the use of the specialized 52’ motor lifeboats located at Grays Harbor and the Columbia River in Washington, and Newport and Coos Bay in Oregon. These aging vessels are more than 60 years old, but continue to be maintained in the inventory because the capability they bring is essential to Search and Rescue operations on coastal Washington and Oregon Bars.
These incidents from 2018, as well as past incidents involving vessel losses and losses of life in commercial fisheries, make clear the hazards in the fishing industry are not isolated to a particular fishery or gear type or a specific geographic area or time of year. The USCG is constantly working to identify trends and take preventive actions in fisheries where incidents occur more frequently; as well as taking steps to attempt to improve the overall safety of the industry.
Mandatory dockside safety examinations are required for certain commercial fishing vessels, including vessels operating outside 3 nautical miles from the baseline, vessels carrying more than 16 individuals on board regardless of where the vessel is operating, and vessels engaged in the Aleutian Trade. These regulations require a USCG commercial fishing vessel safety examination to be completed at least once every 5 years. Having a current safety examination may reduce the extent and time boarding officers will examine safety and survival equipment at-sea. However, successful completion of an exam will not exempt vessels from boardings.
Further details, as well as updates on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act rulemaking and other important commercial fishing vessel safety information are available at: www.fishsafewest.info.