You would hope if politicians in the nation’s capital aim to devise legislation that will have a significant impact on the design and construction of commercial fishing boats, the politicians would take the time to get the opinion of those most affected — fishermen, boatbuilders and naval architects.
So far, that has not been the case for the section of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 that requires boats 50 feet and over built after July 1, 2013, to be classed.
What mystical gurus the politicians were consulting is unclear, but it wasn’t fishermen, boatbuilders and naval architects. If they had, then the United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents at least 36 fisheries groups in the state, would not have come out with a resolution stating, “The United Fishermen of Alaska do not support mandatory classification of fishing vessels that are at least 50 feet in length overall built after July 1, 2013.”
The resolution of Feb. 21, 2014, opposing the classification regulation lists several complaints naval architects and boatbuilders have already raised: The cost for building a classed boat could be 25 to 30 percent more than a boat built before July 1, 2013. Fishermen will end up keeping their old boat or building a boat shorter than 50 feet. In either case it “will make the Alaskan fishing fleet less safe.”
A justification for the idea of classing boats is to make them safer. But, as is clear from the above quote, an important segment of this country’s fishing industry thinks the opposite will happen. In fact, Alaska’s fishermen will tell you that boats over 50 feet — especially the 58-foot class — are quite safe.
Further, the resolution states that the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee “does not support survey and classification requirements for new vessels that are at least 50 feet in overall length.”
Congress established the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee in 1988 to advise the Coast Guard and Congress on fishing boat safety issues. It would seem logical that a politician might have checked in with this committee, with representatives from the East and West coasts, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t appear to have happened.
So now the United Fishermen of Alaska has taken their resolution opposing classification of fishing vessels over 50 feet to Alaska’s federal delegation.
“We’ve been working with our congressional delegation on this issue,” says Julianne Curry, UFA’s executive director. “They are very aware of how the United Fishermen of Alaska feel about this issue.”
Curry also notes, “We know it’s a countrywide problem and not just an Alaska problem.” That’s the key to turning back the classification ruling: fisheries organizations from around the country putting pressure on their senators and representatives. Otherwise, we truly might have a segment of the fishing fleet that’s suddenly not as safe as it has been.
Photo: The 58-foot Isle Dominator and Magnus Martens tied up at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal shortly after being launched in 2013 from Fred Wahl Marine Construction in Reedsport, Ore.; Jessica Hathaway