The Boats & Gear blog explores new construction projects, electronics, gear and equipment with contributions from Jean Paul Vellotti (NF B&G editor) and Michael Crowley (former B&G editor).
Written by Michael Crowley
May 12, 2015
All right, it’s good you are being proactive. You’ve heard more than one story about fishermen who have drowned because they weren’t wearing a PFD or immersion suit when their boat went down. So you took a safety course or two and now you’ve got PFDs, immersion suits and life jackets for both you and the crew. And you developed a safety procedures manual for you boat. That’s being prepared. Or is it?
Not for the skipper and crew of the 28-foot Five Star, an aluminum crabber that operated out of Kelsey Bay, British Columbia. On June 12, 2014, the Five Star was returning to Kelsey Bay with nearly 2,800 pounds of crab in containers on the deck. It was the Five Star’s largest catch of the year.
Entering Johnstone Strait, the crabber encountered a strong ebb tide going up against a 28-knot wind out of the northwest. It is also an area known for strong eddies and swirls. Not long after entering Johnstone Strait, the Five Star broached, sending the crab-filled containers slamming up against the port bulwark. Shortly after, the boat rolled down and over. The crewman was wearing an older life jacket, while the skipper, who exited through the wheelhouse window, wore neither a life jacket nor a PFD.
Both hung onto the overturned hull for a while and then started swimming to shore. The crewman made it the 500 yards to land. The skipper did not. Once ashore, the crewman located a house and made a 911 call.
Several things stand out in the marine investigation report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Despite the fact that the skipper had purchased the PFDs and immersion suits after participating in Canada’s Safest Catch program, neither lifejackets nor PFDs were worn during normal fishing operations — let alone the rough conditions encountered that day. Thus, the skipper became a statistic: one of the 44 percent of British Columbia fishing related fatalities not wearing a PFD since 2004.
Though the skipper had developed a safety procedures manual, he had not led emergency drills — required by regulations and encouraged by the Safest Catch program. That might have got him thinking about stability and what would happen if the crab containers broke loose in heavy weather.
The Five Star was also required to have a VHF radio with DSC capability. The boat had the radio but not the DSC feature, which would have allowed them to send a distress signal at the push of a button.
Though it wasn’t required, the report notes that an EPIRB, which was not on the Five Star, would have automatically sent out a search and rescue distress signal when it hit the water. Thus no one knew about the incident until the crew member called 911. That was an hour and a half after the boat capsized.
The Five Star and her skipper is another dismal tale in a long line of sad stories of fishermen dying at sea when it might have been avoided. In this case, just because you take safety courses and buy the proper equipment, it really doesn’t do you much good unless you think about how to use those tools and do the training.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
May 5, 2015
Try walking around a strange town on a moonless night with not a star in the sky and not a light on anywhere. To make matters worse, some rather nefarious characters are looking to eliminate some questionable friends of yours that you've been hanging with. The route to safety centers on the one way out of the neighborhood you're in. But it's pitch dark. How to find it? It would sure be nice to have a little light.
Now you know what it's like to be a king salmon in the Bering Sea or a hooligan in the waters off the Pacific Northwest. Both have a troubled relationship with certain associates. For the salmon it's pollock and for the hooligans, also known as candlefish, Pacific smelt and eulachon, it's pink shrimp. And in an ironic twist that nefarious character, the fisherman, also gets pulled into the game.
In all cases, the issue is bycatch. Catch too much salmon or Pacific smelt and the fishery could be shut down.
Shrimp fishermen are using bycatch reduction devices to keep smelt out of the net. Washington and Oregon shrimpers have rigid-gate BRDs on their trawls with three-quarter-inch bar spacing. Initially that was very effective in eliminating bycatch, but lately smelt bycatch numbers have soared. As a result NOAA is considering protective regulations.
For pollock boats it's more a case of trying to avoid areas with high numbers of chinook salmon.
The answer for both fisheries may be a light, a guiding light so to speak. Last July three fisheries biologists chartered the Miss Yvonne, a double-rigged Oregon shrimp trawler for an unusual experiment.
One of the trawls they towed was a standard net. The other net had a green LED light tied to the footrope. When the nets were hauled back, the traditionally rigged trawl held lots of smelt, along with flatfish, as well as Pacific shrimp.
The catch in the LED-equipped trawl was just about all shrimp. After 42 tows, the illuminated net captured 90 percent less smelt than the traditionally rigged trawl.
Testing hasn't been as extensive with pollock trawls, but early experiments with Wesmar's new BioLight on the headrope of a pollock trawl suggests that it pulls fish away from the mouth of the net. In another case the light was placed in the mesh in front of an escapement hole. The salmon were drawn to the light and out the hole.
It appears that with just a little bit of light, both salmon and smelt can find their way out of a bad neighborhood.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
April 28, 2015
Every month we feature eight products in National Fisherman's Product Roundup section. Two of those are selected for a more extensive discussion because they are new, they are innovative, and they might make a difference in the lives of commercial fishermen.
From reader surveys we know it's a well-read section, but we don't generally hear how a particular product affected someone's life. Well this time we did, though truth be told, we don't know if the DSPA-5 flame extinguisher was first learned about in the pages of NF or at the local marine dealer. In this case, that probably would have been Hercules SLR in New Bedford, Mass., who informed us of the incident. However, the source isn't so critical. What's important is that the DSPA-5 did what it was supposed to do.
The DSPA-5, a product of AFG Flameguard USA, is an aerosol-based fire suppression and extinguishing system with potassium compounds that break the bond between oxygen and a fire, thus putting down the fire in seconds. It's packaged in a handheld disc-shaped object with a firing pin by the handle. Pull the pin; toss the DSPA-5 in the area with the fire, close the door, and shortly the fire should be extinguished.
This past Easter Sunday, the scalloper Freedom was towing its dredges when the winches stopped responding. The boat's skipper, Derek Eilertsen, attempted to check the hydraulic system in the engine room but was driven back by intense heat and smoke.
The crew tossed a DSPA-5 into the engine room and shut the door. A few minutes later the door was cool to the touch. When they opened the door, there was less smoke and heat, allowing them to extinguish smoldering insulation with a wash-down hose.
A leaky hydraulic hose was the culprit, spraying oil on the exhaust, which ignited the oil. The DSPA kept the fire from spreading and instead of thousands of dollars for repair work, the damage was minimal. And no one was injured.
The Freedom returned to port under her own power and, after a day spent making minor repairs and cleaning up the engine room, went back fishing.
Obviously, the DSPA-5 made a difference.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
April 21, 2015
The medical verdict was sobering: "Either do something different or you'll need a shoulder replacement." That's what David Hiltz Jr., a lobsterman out of Deer Isle, Maine, was told last fall.
The culprit is the way Hiltz and most other lobstermen haul back their traps: He grabs the first trap as it comes out of the water with one hand and with the other flips the gangion coming off the main warp out of the block. Haul enough traps over the years and that equals a lot of shoulder strain and pain.
These days Hiltz's shoulder is feeling much better, thanks to the hauling block he's using on his boat. It's based on a block that's been used in Canada for a number of years, only the adaptation that Hiltz and Rock Wilson at Fuller Machine in Alstead, N.H., came up with is lighter and more affordable.
Called the EZ-Block (also the name of Hiltz and Wilson's new company), it features a wheel with slightly curved teeth that grab the gangion and flips it out of the block. The EZ-Block weighs 30 pounds — versus 56 pounds for the Canadian version — is made of 316 stainless steel and aluminum, and has a snap hook for mounting.
The basic model EZ-Block, originally priced at $600, now sells for $699, whereas the heavier Canadian block costs $800. Also available is an anodized block in black, clear, army green or brown with an engraving, say of your boat's name. Originally priced at $700, it now sells for $759.
EZ-Block is a company that's still in its infancy. The first batch of blocks was released April 12 and sold out. The second batch will be available April 24, but you better get in line because many have already been taken.
Like any start-up outfit, EZ-Block is still getting organized. Yet to come is a website but according to the company, Portland, Maine-based Brooks Trap Mill has just come aboard as the exclusive dealer for EZ-Block, You can also order a block by going to the EZ-Block Facebook page or calling Hiltz at (207) 348-1045.
Hiltz says, "I just want guys to be able to save on their bodies."
Written by Linc Bedrosian
April 14, 2015
From Alaska to Maine, fishermen set thousands of traps and pots every day. Not all of them come back. Lines part, buoys are destroyed by passing boats and tides and storms carry traps into deeper water. These are the infamous ghost traps that, in some cases, continue to fish for years.
There’s been a lot of effort to remove derelict traps, but last year NOAA launched four gear innovation projects to not only attempt to better understand the problem but to prevent traps from being lost in the first place. The projects received Fishing for Energy gear innovation grants administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
The projects are taking place in Washington’s Puget Sound, South Carolina’s Stono River and in Maryland and Virginia’s respective portions of Chesapeake Bay.
Crab mortality caused by ghost fishing is a significant problem in Puget Sound. It’s estimated that 30,000 crabs are killed each year in derelict pots, even though they have cotton panels designed to disintegrate and let crabs leave the pots. The problem is the pots’ design limits a crab’s ability to escape, even when the cotton panel is gone.
A project run by the Northwest Straits Foundation is testing several crab pot designs for their escapement rates to determine the most efficient pots. Recommendations will include trap modifications to improve escapement rates.
Some of the results will be released in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual Fishing Pamphlet that informs fishermen of new rules and regulations.
In Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay, NOAA ran a side-scan sonar survey in 2007 and estimated there were 84,567 derelict crab pots. After some initial work on technologies to reduce ghost fishing, it’s being suggested that commercial blue-crab fishermen might use side-scan sonar to improve the pot-retrieval rate.
In South Carolina, traps are lost when passing boats destroy floats on the surface or cut the trap lines. Researchers are comparing the standard single float and line to using PVC piping to protect the line and testing floats to find one made out of material that’s more durable.
What’s different about the South Carolina project is how the recovered crab traps will be recycled. They’ll be cement coated and then dumped back into the water to create oyster reef habitat. The cement provides a settlement substrate for oysters.
In Virginia, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is testing biodegradable escape panels and visual deterrents on peeler crab pots. Thirty peeler pots were given biodegradable escape panels that were tested against 30 standard peeler pots. Preliminary results suggest no adverse effect from the biodegradable panels on the catch rate.
There are also indications that the color of the entrance funnel can deter turtles from entering a trap while enhancing blue crab catch rate.Add a comment
Written by Linc Bedrosian
April 9, 2015
Maine fishermen are starting to think about racing. But then again, even though the calendar said it was April 8, Penobscot Bay through the Down East coastline received another couple of inches of snow last night.
It's no wonder would-be racers are confused. On one hand they want to gear up for racing with blue skies, warm weather and the shrill screaming of jacked-up engines — probably a couple hundred rpms from pushing a piston through a block — sending boats slamming down a race course somewhere in Maine.
Yet still the snow fell last night.
The confusion this brings about is summed up perfectly in the following recent post on the Fans of Maine Lobster Boat Racing Facebook page:
"Holy crap it's race season!
Watch out for icebergs!"
Well, not to worry because they say spring is on the way. Then again, Maine has had snowstorms in June and July so maybe this year racers will be scraping snow off the wheelhouse windows.
In any case, sun or snow, here's the race schedule for 2015. As you can see, the three races that were absent in 2014 — Friendship, Harpswell and Searsport — are back in the mix.
Boothbay —June 20
Rockland — June 21
Bass Harbor — June 28
Moosabec (Jonesport/Beals Island) — July 4
Searsport — July 11
Stonington —July 12
Friendship — July 19
Harpswell — July 26
Winter Harbor — Aug. 8
Long Island — Aug. 15
Portland — Aug. 16
Pemaquid — Aug. 16
As you can see, Portland and Pemaquid are holding races the same day. I believe there's an attempt to have Portland or Pemaquid hold races on another day.
On another racing note, at this year's Maine Fishermen's Forum three people were nominated to the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Hall of Fame.
• Osmond Beal was a longtime Beals Island boatbuilder who turned out several worthy racing boats, including the wooden 40-foot, 10-inch Corned Hake. Ivan Ray owned the boat, which left many lobster boats in its wake. Beal also raced the Shanna & Erick, an H&H 27 built from a Beal design.
• Bill Hallinan raced the Apparition 2, a 38-foot Young Brothers, and was dominant in his class through the 1990s. The Apparition 2 was listed as having a 650-hp engine.
• Glenn Holland is best known in lobster boat racing circles for designing the 32-foot Red Baron, named after the German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron, mostly run by Holland's father Corliss, had many closely fought and sometimes bitterly contested races with Arvid, Alvin and Colby Young's the Sopwith Camel. But the Baron and those races helped put lobster boat racing on the map. Holland hasn't been involved with racing for several years, but this winter the Red Baron was back in his shop (Holland's Boat Shop, Belfast, Maine), so maybe Holland and the Baron are returning to the race circuit.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
April 2, 2015
In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board published "Safer Seas 2013," a summary of accident investigations for commercial vessels. From a safety education standpoint, it was informative enough that boat owners used it in crew training and safety meetings.
This week the NTSB released "Safer Seas 2014." It covers a diverse group of nine boat and vessel types from tankers to cargo vessels to the tall ship Bounty, but commercial fishing boats and towboats take the top two spots for number of entries. There are five accident reports for fishing boats, including four sinkings and two deaths, which took place in 2012 and 2013.
Each report has color photos of the boat and summarizes the circumstances of the accident, including weather and sea conditions, and the crew's reaction once they realized they were in a bad place. That's followed by a summary describing the accident's probable cause.
When a boat sinks and isn't recovered it's hard to pinpoint the exact cause of an accident, but in at least two cases for commercial fishing boats, poor maintenance seems to have been the culprit.
The 110-foot wooden Moonlight Maid ("Safer Seas 2014" lacks dimensions for its boats, which would be a good thing to add for next year's report) was built in 1942 as a subchaser. She was on a run from Seward to Kodiak, Alaska, in heavy seas when a plank pulled loose and from then on the pumps couldn't keep up with the incoming water.
The NTSB said the probable cause was "detachment of portside hull planking... Contributing to the hull failure was inadequate maintenance of the aging wooden vessel."
Then there was the Long Shot, a 30-year-old shrimper with some very tired steel that went down in the Gulf of Mexico. In 10- to 12-foot seas, she was taking on water in the lazarette and the engines were losing power because water was getting into the fuel.
The NTSB determined that after initial lazarette flooding, the probable cause of sinking was "water contamination of its fuel-oil storage tanks, which led to failure of the propulsion and electrical generator engines and [increased] flooding of the lazarette compartment in heavy seas."
Sometimes something small lets go that ends up costing a lot of money. That happened with the 334-foot freezer trawler Arctic Storm when a fractured fitting on a fuel-oil vent resulted in fuel oil spraying onto a hot engine surface and igniting.
The boat was towed back to port and there were no injuries, but the fire's damage bill ran to $5 million.
Read these reports for yourself — and not just the commercial fishing boat accidents — and ask yourself if any probable causes recounted here apply to your boat.
Written by MIchael Crowley
March 24, 2015
There's nothing like a gathering of the fisherman's clan or a good boat show to help get through the winter doldrums.
Out in northern California snow has not been the problem it's been here in Maine. In fact they could use snow, lots of it, to relieve a freshwater drought. But that's not why fishermen will be coming to the Longshoremen's Hall in Oakland, Calif., this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
It's a chance to meet, greet and maybe get a deal on that fishing gear you've been putting off buying. It's the annual Swap Meet put on by the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association. Billed as the "biggest event of its kind on the West Coast," the Swap Meet offers fishermen a chance to buy new gear at discounted prices and trade in used gear.
When you aren't bargaining for fishing gear, the Coast Guard will be there to test your EPIRB, and you can have other safety equipment checked and certified as well.
If you have fisheries questions, you'll probably get some of them answered by representatives from the Institute for Fisheries, the California Department of Fish & Game and the California Salmon Council. There will also be a seminar on black box electronics, another on refrigeration and Pro-Troll reportedly has some deals for commercial trollers.
In the past upwards of 500 fishermen have attended the Swap Meet, the association says. No doubt many of them will take advantage of a barbecue the association will hold there.
Across the country, the gathering that took place in Portland, Maine, this past weekend was to get people thinking about spring and ignore the record setting snowfalls and plenty of really cold weather.
Unfortunately, part of the weekend it was blowing like stink, pushing the wind-chill factor below zero, but fortunately there was an escape — if only for a few hours. It was the Maine Boatbuilders Show.
Held each year along the Portland waterfront in several big, ancient looking wooden buildings owned by Portland Yacht Services, the show is packed with boats on the bottom levels, and vendors and food up above.
Richard Pulsifer from Brunswick, Maine, was there with one of his partially completed Pulsifer Hampton Boats. It's a 22-foot wooden boat based on a design of the Casco Bay Hampton, a Maine lobster boat built in 1902 by Charlie Coombs. With just the hull, frames and floor timbers in place it was easy to see that this is a stout boat and very well built.
About 20 feet away from the Pulsifer Hampton, was the Northern Rose, a Torrey Island 29-foot wooden sloop design by the late Joel White of the Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine. The sweet, clean lines of this double-ender cutter were attracting a lot of attention.
Someone had bought the design, started building the boat and died with not much more than the hull completed. Brooklin Boat Yard finished the job and is due to launch it this May.
Way in the back of the building, past a slew of high-end yachts and a few fiberglass workboats, was another boat with its own gathering. That was the 34-foot Merganser, a wooden lobster boat built by Will Frost in 1948 when he was building boats in Portland. When it was built, some considered the Merganser the finest lobster boat hull ever built.
Merganser still retains her lobster boat look but these days she is strictly a recreational boat.
Looking at Merganser or thinking about hoisting the mainsail on the Northern Rose, it was momentarily easy to image a sunny day and running down the Maine coast before a warm summer breeze.
Written by Linc Bedrosian
March 19, 2015
Dale Williams admits he was on his soapbox. Williams is the owner of Williams Fabrication, a boatyard in Bayou La Batre, Ala., that builds fishing boats for Gulf of Mexico and East Coast fishermen. He was lecturing a member of the Coast Guard who had come to the boatyard to see if the scallop boats he was building would meet class or load line regulations.
"You walk on a boat and start looking for correct documentation," Williams began. "You ask do you have a flare kit? Do you have safety inspection on the life raft? And walk by a watertight door that the dogs don't even work on and some are missing, and then go into the engine room to see if it has a fire extinguisher and walk by a bilge manifold rusted through, or a bulkhead gland held up by a string." Then he adds, "I've got pictures."
What set Williams off was the whole idea of having to class boats 50 feet and over, supposedly to make them safer. That, he says, "is a bunch of crap. If the Coast Guard would implement the rules on the books now, boats would be a lot safer."
Not only will classing not make fishing boats safer, the process will push the cost of a boat up so high "it will put us out of business," says Williams. For instance, an engine outfit he was talking to figured that to class a new engine would drive the price up by 25 percent. "What does that do to increase the safety of a boat? Nothing," Williams says.
Add to that all the steel, welding material, piping, pumps and wiring that has to be approved by a classification society, plus all the drawings, and, he says, "you create jobs for other people and put us out of business."
Oh, and as for the boat owner who likes to come to the building site and make changes while the boat is being built? No more. Or if changes are made, it's only after new drawings are submitted to and reviewed by the classification society. If the classing society has a backlog, that adds more time and money to the process.
Then there's the guy who started as a deckhand and wants to some day own his own boat. The cost to build a new boat makes that a much more elusive dream.
This is an issue "that has got to be addressed," says Williams.
He's not the only one who feels this way. Boatbuilders, naval architects and a few — very few — fishermen have talked about their displeasure with the regulation. But they are all isolated voices, and as long as they remain that way and lack legislative backers or lobbying groups, the situation won't change.
A big part of the problem is the balkanization of much of the fishing industry by region and boat types, resulting in the lack of a united front when it comes to something as basic as determining how safe the boat on which you'll be fishing is. It's basically a question of control and now that is being left up to the politicians.
In the workboat industry there is an outfit called the National Association of Charterboat Operators. They have done a lot of work for a diverse group of boat owners engaged in things such as fishing, sailing, diving, eco-tours and excursion boats.
Is something like that possible for owners of seiners, crabbers, scallopers and the rest of the fishing fleets? It's an idea. The other option is continuing to let members of Congress determine what kind of boat is safe. And how many Congressmen and women ever get close to a fishing boat, let alone operate one?
Written by Michael Crowley
March 10, 2015
Despite the fact that fishermen work in the first or second most dangerous occupation — depending on who you talk to — fishermen can be very casual about the risks they face daily.
So I was not surprised when last week's Maine Fishermen's Forum had a seminar on Saturday titled "Reducing Risk on Deck in the Lobster Fishery" and only about 25 people showed up — eight of them fishermen.
Jennifer Lincoln, the head of NIOSH's Alaska Pacific office, moderated the session. Over a number of years, she and her staff have gone to great lengths to document fatal and non-fatal injuries in the business of commercial fishing.
Lincoln talked about the gathering of that information and, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, some of the things they have done to reduce those numbers. They include the E-Stop, which allows someone wrapped up in a seine winch to immediately shut it off and getting more fishermen to wear PFDs.
Saturday's session, she said, was to be an exchange of information, and the first speaker, researcher Scott Fulmer of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, set the tone. Fulmer, who has conducted ergonomic studies among Bay State fishermen, began by telling the audience, "What we are getting at today is problem solving."
Starting with a photo of a waitress in a torturously painful posture, he pulled the audience into the discussion by getting them to talk about what was wrong in the photo and what could be done to make her job easier.
From there he and the audience went on an ergonomic job analysis of life on deck, with fishermen in the audience describing their own problems.
"Where does it hurt?" Fulmer asked.
"It starts at the wrist, works up to the elbows and the shoulders," said one fisherman.
"Both shoulders and the lower back," said another fishermen.
That was followed by suggestions for reducing ergonomic risk factors.
Francis Coulombe, of the Quebec Fisheries & Aquaculture Center, and Sylvie Montreuil, of Laval University in Quebec City, Quebec, followed Fulmer. They presented an analysis of a study on risk and prevention of fishermen falling overboard from Quebec lobster boats.
Out of 50 incidents, lines on deck accounted for nine people going over board, while 12 went after losing their balance.
Improved line handling was high on the list of ways to prevent going overboard, but so were "cohesion among crew members" and a deck with a non-skid surface.
On a scale of 1 to 10 ranking factors to prevent lobstermen going overboard, line control came in at 6.2, while, surprisingly, captain's attitude was 6.4.
The 25 or so people attending the seminar seemed to get some good information. It's too bad more were not there. After all, it's not as if Maine lobstermen are immune from risk. A story in the Feb. 13, 2014, Portland Press Herald was entitled "Maine lobstermen fall overboard more often than people may think." In the story, David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobsterman's Association, said he had gone over twice, with the rope wrapped around his feet both times.
Oh, well, maybe more will attend next time. Though hopefully it won't take some deaths in Maine's lobster fleet to bring fishermen to the next seminar.
Page 5 of 13
The Northeast Fisheries Science Center has announced that Dr. Jon Hare has been selected to serve as the permanent science and research director effective Oct. 31.Read more ...
It’s no secret that fraud is a problem in the seafood industry. Oceana repeatedly touts a mislabeling epidemic. While their method has been criticized, the perception of rampant fraud has been established.Read more ...