New limits on limit seiners

OK. Just about everyone in America is aware that for this past decade, Congress has been on record as being mostly a dismal, lackluster, do-nothing, divisive group of men and women.

Unfortunately, at least as far as commercial fishermen are concerned, they did do something, and it’s not good. I’m referring to the Classing of Vessels section of the USCG Authorization Act of 2010. It requires commercial fishing vessels built after July 1, 2013 (originally it was July 1, 2012), that are at least 50 feet long overall and operate beyond three-mile demarcation line to meet survey and classification requirements.

Fifty feet is a completely arbitrary number made without any thought as to how it affects boat owners and the fishing industry. It’s time that the Classing of Vessels section is repealed.

Do fishing boats need more safety standards? Some probably. Boats under 79 feet fishing in unprotected waters in the winter — cod potting in the Bering Sea, crabbing off the West or trawling in the Atlantic — do need higher safety standards in terms of stability and watertight integrity.

But the seiner working the protected waters of Southeast Alaska in the summer needs a less stringent set of requirements.

Now, under the Authorization Act, instead of new safety rules, boats being built now for working in harsh conditions and those being built for relatively mild weather are subject to being judged by classification societies.

Classification societies aren’t up to the task of making judgment calls on the design and building of small boats: offshore supply boats, ships, big tugs, factory trawlers, yes, but not small fishing boats. They don’t have the mindset and most haven’t even started at developing rules for small fishing boats. One classification society will try to use its under-90-meter rule. That’s 295 feet, which is hardly something you would want for a 58-footer.

Then there’s the cost: $50,000 to $75,000 just for the design work: total cost, maybe $250,000 more to build a 58-footer.

Some politicians might have had good intentions, but by throwing classification societies into the building of a new boat, they had little understanding of what they were doing. It’s time to repeal that mistake. So talk to fishing organizations and put some heat on Washington.

Photo: New classification rules threaten to skyrocket the cost of construction for the popular 58-foot limit seiner, like the recently launched Magnus Martens built by Fred Wahl Marine Construction in Reedsport, Ore.; Jessica Hathaway

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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