The U.S. Coast Guard established safety and equipment requirements for the commercial fishing industry through the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 and the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012.
Norton Sound commercial fishermen are eligible to exemptions from certain U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard) commercial fishing regulations. In consultation with the Coast Guard, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) requested and received the following exemptions:
- The rule requiring EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) for commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three miles from shore.
- The rule which requires salmon skiffs to carry immersion suits for each person onboard.
The exemption applies to commercial fishing vessels, undocumented or registered with the State of Alaska, that are:
- Described as open skiffs
- Outboard powered
- 26 feet or less in length, or a skiff regardless of length if operated off the beach on St. Lawrence Island
If commercial fishermen using vessels that fall under these guidelines wish to operate under the exempted rule structure and not carry the immersion suits, they will need to comply with the following:
- Operate from the following communities: Brevig Mission, Gambell, Nome, St. Michael, Unalakleet, Diomede, Golovin, Savoonga, Stebbins, Wales, Elim, Koyuk, Shaktoolik, Teller and White Mountain.
- Each person onboard will, at all times, wear a properly sized, Coast Guard approved, Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device.
- Each personal flotation device must have 31 square inches of type I retro-reflective tape attached to the front and 31 square inches on the back. If the device is reversible, retro-reflective tape must be attached to the inside in the same manner. In addition, each personal flotation device must be equipped with a properly maintained Coast Guard approved PFD marker light, preferably of the strobe light type.
- Operations are limited to favorable weather conditions with winds less than 34 knots.
- This exemption only applies when there are four (4) or fewer people aboard. If the skiff displays a manufacturer’s maximum capacity of fewer than four (4) persons, then that rated capacity is the maximum number of persons authorized.
- At least one (1) GPS-enabled, FCC type-accepted 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) will be carried on the vessel, securely attached to an individual and immediately available for use in an emergency.
- The vessel must be equipped with a buoyant waterproof container or bag that contains the required visual distress signals and is stowed in a readily accessible location that will allow the crew easy access during an emergency or if the vessel is capsized.
- Carry a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard letter that authorizes the exemption (a copy is available here or from NSEDC/Norton Sound Seafood Products offices).
- The Coast Guard’s granting of the rule exemption does not prohibit commercial fishermen from following the regulations as originally written. To comply with federal law, all commercial fishermen must fully follow one set of rules or the other. Which set a commercial fisherman chooses to follow is a decision he or she must make based on what the commercial fisherman feels will best fit his or her situation. Individual vessel owners may also request an exemption from the Coast Guard for their specific boat.
In addition to the exemption granted for NSEDC member communities’ commercial salmon setnet fleet, the Coast Guard also granted an exemption to the rule requiring EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) for commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three miles from shore. To receive the exemption, the operator of these vessels must carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) attached to their PFD. The vessels also must operate from NSEDC member communities and carry the Coast Guard letter authorizing the exemption (A copy for print is available at www.nsedc.com or from NSEDC/Norton Sound Seafood Products offices).
It is important to note that the immersion suit exemption does not apply to vessels that do not meet these three criteria: 1) Described as open skiffs; 2) Outboard powered; 3) 26 feet or less in length, or a skiff regardless of length if operated off the beach on St. Lawrence Island. Commercial fishing vessels outside this description—generally the region’s larger boats that fish for crab and halibut—still must meet more stringent regulations that do require the immersion suits, among other safety devices, like a survival craft. The exemption for these vessels only applies to EPIRBs. Again, fishermen have the option to follow the original or exempted rules.
Commercial fishermen choosing to follow the exempted rule must still follow the rest of the regulations outside the requirement to carry immersion suits. The following list is a Coast Guard summary of the federal safety requirements that would apply to salmon setnet skiffs (under 22’, carrying up to three people, and traveling within three miles of shore), without any exemptions.
- AK Numbers: Valid State Certificate of Number onboard the vessel. Block letters and numbers on the forward half of the vessel. (For example, AK 1234 AK. This is not the ADF&G number!)
- PFDs/Immersion Suits: Coast Guard-approved immersion suit. On rivers, a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III or V PFD (lifejacket) is acceptable. They must be of the proper size for each individual, and stowed where readily accessible. They must each have a Coast Guard-approved PFD light, with batteries replaced annually. They must also be marked with the name of the vessel or the name of the owner or the name of the person assigned to wear it. (Open-skiff fishermen in NSEDC member communities can be exempt from this rule if they follow additional regulations previously listed in this notice.)
- Throwable Flotation Device: One Coast Guard-approved cushion (Type IV PFD) or ring life buoy for vessels over 16-feet. Must be marked with vessel name and retro-reflective tape.
- Distress Signals (Flares): Three Coast Guard-approved flares. All flares must be replaced by their expiration dates.
- Sound Signal: Means of making an efficient sound signal, for example, a whistle or canned air horn.
- Injury Placard: Posted where the crew can see it. Available from the Coast Guard.
- Navigation Lights: An all-around white light, if operating or at anchor between sunset and sunrise.
In addition to the new safety regulations, the Coast Guard may perform safety inspections in the region, most likely before the fishing season begins. NSEDC assists fishermen in complying with the regulations by making some of the necessary safety equipment available by pre-order through NSSP’s gear program. These items include flares, life rings, PFDs, water-activated lights for attachment to PFDs, PLBs (personal locator beacons), whistles, canned air, and dry bags and dry boxes for gear storage. NSSP will also maintain an inventory of this safety gear for the herring and salmon fleet in Unalakleet, but will make a major push to see that fishermen are supplied before the season begins.
For more information on the Coast Guard regulations and exemptions, contact Russ Hazlett of the U.S. Coast Guard at (907) 428-4154. Questions on NSEDC’s plans to procure safety equipment for fishermen can be directed to Middy Johnson, Norton Sound Seafood Products Operations Manager, at 855-232-3014 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Karl Erickson, NSSP Vessel Manager, at 855-232-3014 or email@example.com.