Over the weekend, tragedy struck in many parts of Maine. The most disastrous fire in the state in more than 50 years killed five young people in Portland. A car accident claimed two men under the age of 20. The loss of the Cushing-based lobster boat No Limits near Matinicus Island left skipper Chris Hutchinson wondering if his two missing crewmen would ever be recovered.

In a state with a population hovering right around a million, these losses are felt deeply through many communities statewide. Like the fishing industry, our people are closely connected.

Unlike a building fire or a car accident, the scenes of which can be searched and analyzed repeatedly until the investigators think they have gotten all the information they can glean, the loss of a boat at sea often remains a mystery unless there’s a survivor.

In “Fixing fatal flaws” on page 44 of our December issue, which you can pick up at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 19-21, Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley writes about the new Coast Guard safety regulations coming down the pike as a result of the reauthorization act of 2010.

The biggest advantage to the new regulations, which will include boat inspections, is that the requirements could be defined fishery by fishery to best suit fleets in different parts of the country. What happened on the No Limits remains to be seen. The skipper survived because he found his way to his life raft and managed to fire a flare when it counted. Although the new Coast Guard regulations would not apply to the No Limits (it being less than 50 feet and operating within three miles), the fact that the lobster boat had a full suite of safety gear is a result of a wave of change in the industry.

Let’s hope the new regulations continue to make these kinds of positive changes for commercial fishermen without exacting too heavy a burden on many struggling sectors. We can’t put a price on survival, but surviving includes being able to run your business in the face of changing regulations.

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

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