Gulf South Atlantic
Katrina and '05 friends still cast shadow over fisheries, but rays of sunshine exist
Hurricane recovery is a concept much talked about and seldom experienced in coastal regions of the upper Gulf of Mexico, where many families still live in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In Louisiana, oysters were among the hardest hit fisheries, but nature is now doing its part to make amends.
Winter fishing is about as tough as it gets. You stick any ordinary man on the deck of a fishing boat in the Gulf of Maine or the Bering Sea in late January and send him to Georges Bank or some other God-forsaken place, tell him he's going spend a week, day and night, stumbling over checkers on an icy deck, the boat rolling from rail to rail and him seasick, frozen and so bone-weary he'd give you everything he had to lie down in his bunk, and there's one thing you know to an absolute certainty: When you put this useless S.O.B. back on the dock, you're never going to see him again.
Extraordinary guys go fishing. You may think you're ordinary, because you work hard, shun privilege, and try to build a good life for your family, but there's very little ordinary about you. Your life lacks even the comfort of routine, other than the rolling of the boat. Vacation pay, sick leave and pension checks are out of the question, and you mark time with bad backs and swollen fingers.
Granted, you are not utterly uncompensated. Sunrise is a spectacle when it dances like a fireball on a wild sea to the eastward. Haul-backs ripple with anticipation as you strain to see what the ocean has yielded. On land, a diesel can seem a noisome beast, but at sea the muffled roar of several hundred horsepower is the beat of life. And there may be no place on Earth as warm as the galley when the deck has just been cleared, no bed as beckoning as your bunk, however narrow, when you've got the prospect of a few hours' sleep.
This is hardly consolation for the family of Antonio Barroqueiro, captain of the Lady of Grace, the 75-foot New Bedford, Mass., dragger that went down the night of Jan. 26, or for the families of his crewmen, Rogerio Ventura, Joao Silva and Mario Farinhas. Six days later, the dragger Lady Luck disappeared, leaving only a debris pattern on the waters off Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and two more families — captain Sean Cone's and Dan Miller's — wondering why.
Authorities are convinced the Lady of Grace iced up and capsized, but the boat's EPIRB never went off. It appears to have deployed when the boat rolled, only to float up into a scupper, where it hung up, never making it to the sea's surface to broadcast emergency.
The loss of the Lady Luck is a mystery. It's not clear from news accounts I've seen if there was a distress signal of any kind before the EPIRB went off, and there was no sign of the vessel's life raft, as of this writing.
The loss of these two boats and six extraordinary men reminds us that tragedy is never far below the horizon in this racket, and that it is only mere moments away.
You can cover the deck with life rafts, fill the fo'c'sle with survival suits and paper the windows with courtesy exam stickers, but there is always going to be a sea for every boat. And when it breaks over the stern, or the lazarette implodes, or the wrong weld lets go, or you drag up a torpedo, or God forbid, you roll over in January, well, what you really
need is an angel.
If disaster can strike in moments, then moments count. VMS technology, which constantly uploads vessel position to satellites, clearly lends itself to the cause of vessel safety.
It is not enough to merely observe that a vessel has ceased transmitting its position, which might mean any number of things. VMS has within its grasp the technological wherewithal to provoke an immediate response at those critical moments when a captain's priority is getting the crew off the boat.
In New Bedford, former scalloper Jim Kendall, a fisheries consultant who numbers VMS maker Boatracs among his clients, advocates installation of a panic button that would immediately signal shipboard crisis. Other nations, such as Australia, use VMS to establish a direct and immediate link between a vessel in trouble and the national Rescue Coordination Center.
The New England Fishery Management Council, which met the week following the loss of the Lady Luck, voted to ask VMS manufacturers to move swiftly to ensure that all their users know how their safety systems work.
We'll never know exactly what difference a panic button might have made in the last desperate moments aboard the Lady of Grace. We'll never know how long it was from the time fate's black cloak settled over the Lady Luck until the EPIRB finally went off.
But we know what winter fishing is all about.
— Jerry Fraser
Response to change is essential to success
Someone once said the only constant in the universe is change, and fishermen certainly can attest to that. It might be weather, which changes with or without preamble, or it might be price. Sometimes it's the fish, who change their minds and swim away. Maybe next time they'll swim right at you. The politicians are always changing their minds, so the bureaucrats are always changing the rules, and now you've got to change your gear. God forbid your spouse changes his or her mind, or next you time you go ashore, you'll be changing your address.
Checklists: onboard safety equipment, procedures and drills
Based on U.S. Coast Guard reports
On Aug. 1, 2003, a 66-foot commercial shrimping vessel out of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., got underway en route to Stock Island, Fla. The master was the only person aboard, and this was the first time he had operated the vessel. A representative of the vessel's parent company had instructed the master to have a leaking shaft packing repaired. The vessel's owner stated to investigators that he had no knowledge the vessel was sent for repairs.
At approximately 1 p.m. and 20 miles offshore, the master heard what he thought was the high-level bilge alarm in the vessel's machinery space. He proceeded to the engine room to investigate and observed water up to the valve covers on the main engine. While looking for a means to pump the water from the vessel's bilge, all power onboard was lost, indicating that the flooding had reached the vessel's batteries.
Because this was the master's first time operating this vessel, he was unfamiliar with the location of the equipment onboard. Unable to control the flooding, he thought it was best to abandon ship. A nearby fishing vessel offered assistance, so the master embarked and stood by while his vessel sank. He was brought back to his home port around 8:30 p.m.
Back onshore, the master notified the parent company of the sinking. The next morning, the vessel owner was notified of the incident. Neither the parent company nor the vessel owner notified the Coast Guard, because a good Samaritan had safely recovered the vessel driver.
On Aug. 2, a recreational fishing boat recovered a life raft with the fishing vessel's name on it, and Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach initiated a search and rescue case. The station dispatched a 41-foot utility boat, and Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater sent an HH-60 helicopter to investigate the debris field. Station Fort Myers Beach was able to trace the name stenciled on the life raft. They contacted the parent company, which confirmed that the vessel sank the previous night but the skipper had been safely recovered.
On Aug. 8, 2003, the Coast Guard interviewed the master and the parent company to discuss the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the fishing vessel. Neither the master nor the parent company could confirm if the vessel was carrying an EPIRB or life raft, as required by federal regulations. The master stated he never tried to call for help or notify the Coast Guard because he was not sure if the vessel's radio worked.
The master could not provide any verifiable information as to the exact cause of the vessel's sinking. He did state that the vessel's engine room suddenly began to flood, causing the engine to shut down and the vessel to sink rapidly. The owner and the parent company stated that they did not report the incident to the Coast Guard because they did not feel it was necessary. As a result of the lack of information surrounding the casualty, the Coast Guard could not make a determination on the likely cause of the flooding.
Without familiarity or preparation, the master was in a dangerous situation. Moreover, taxpayer dollars and federal assets were expended as the Coast Guard conducted an unnecessary search.
Beyond having the necessary stores and supplies onboard, being prepared for a trip must include having the required safety equipment in operational condition, having the required lifesaving and survival equipment ready for use, and having completed the required safety orientation, safety instruction and emergency drills.
Requirements for commercial fishing vessels are found in the regulations at 46 Code of Federal Regulations Part 28. But having all the required safety, lifesaving, and survival equipment on your vessel is not enough. You must know how to use it in an emergency. The Coast Guard recommends that each person complete fishing vessel safety and survival awareness training. Statistics show that those who have and use safety and survival equipment are more than twice as likely to save their vessel and survive a casualty.
To ensure you are prepared for your fishing trip, contact your local Coast Guard fishing vessel safety examiner for a courtesy, no-fault dockside safety examination. For more safety information or to view other references, visit our Web site at www.fishsafe.info.
Required safety and lifesaving equipment
Life preservers or other PFDs
– Ring life buoys
– A survival craft (as applicable)
– Distress signals
– An EPIRB
– Fire extinguishers
The equipment must be marked as required, in good working order, ready for immediate use, and maintained and inspected in accordance with the regulations or manufacturers guidelines/industry standards.
Before getting underway, the master of a vessel is responsible for ensuring each person onboard receives a safety orientation on at least these items:
– Survival craft station(s) and
– Fire, emergency and abandon-ship
– Stowage and donning of immersion suits
– Procedures for making distress calls
– Individual responsibilities during an emergency
– Procedures for rough weather and
– Procedures for anchoring, man
overboard, and firefighting
At least every 30 days, instruction and drills must be conducted onboard the vessel as if there were an actual emergency, including participation by all individuals and use of emergency equipment for:
– Abandoning the vessel
– Fighting a fire in different locations on the vessel
– Recovering an individual from the water
– Minimizing the effects of unintentional flooding
– Launching survival craft and recovering lifeboats
– Donning immersions suits and other PFDs
– Donning a firefighting outfit and an SCBA
– Making a voice radio distress call and using visual distress signals
– Activating the general alarm
– Reporting inoperative alarm systems and fire detection systems
P.E.I. boat slips into Maryland; scalloper tests powder coating
On Canada's Prince Edward Island, Hustler's Fiberglass Boats in Bloomfield recently completed a new mold for their 44-foot 6-inch hull. The new hull is wider across the transom by 14 inches, making it 14 feet 9 inches. The keel is slightly narrower to bring more solid water to the prop and thus more speed, and the bow has larger spray rails to deflect water.
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