Last week, Jerry Fraser and I both wrote about the potential loss of the Coast Guard search-and-rescue helicopter in Newport, Ore. As I mentioned, a public forum with the Coast Guard is scheduled to take place in Newport at 5:30 on Oct. 20 at the community college.

The sun sets on a Coast Guard MH-65 rescue helicopter. Coast Guard photoHowever, the Coast Guard has announced that they are no longer planning to attend the hearing. What that means for the hundreds of commercial fishermen and other boaters in the area and their hope that they might convince the Coast Guard to reinstate the MH-65 remains to be seen.

As of Nov. 30 — the opening day of the Dungeness crab season — Newport and Charleston, S.C., are both on the Coast Guard’s chopping block as a result of budget cuts. The closure of the Charleston Air Facility will save the Coast Guard $6 million a year. Two other helicopters in the region will be reassigned, which reportedly leaves just three helicopters — one in the air and two on stand-by — for an area covering nearly 600 miles, from the North Carolina state line to Melbourne Beach, Fla.

We all understand tight budgets, but these cuts are putting lives at risk. Gone are the days of lead-lined boots that help you sink fast in the event of a sinking or fall overboard. We’ve changed the fishing culture to incorporate a higher expectation of survival, and that includes improving the use of Coast Guard-approved safety gear. Fishermen are increasingly responsible for their survival — as much as they reasonably can be — spending more of their own meager budgets on PLBs, inflatable vests and emergency lights.

We have to press the Coast Guard to ensure that these efforts toward improving fishing safety continue to make it worthwhile for fishermen to invest in their own safety. The Coast Guard must continue to do its best to fulfill the pledge that if a fisherman survives an event at sea, they might be rescued in a reasonable — and survivable — amount of time.

If you can, I encourage you to attend the forum in Newport. And please take a moment to sign this petition to keep the Newport helicopter.

You can also contact the Coast Guard by writing a letter to:
Adm. Paul Zukunft
Commandant (CG-00)
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
2100 2nd St. S.W. STOP 7000
Washington, D.C. 20593-7000

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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