Fishing fatalities in Alaska have decreased dramatically since the early 1990s, with federal statistics showing an average of nine deaths a year since 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard is trying to push those numbers even lower this summer with its annual dockside exams.
As Bristol Bay fishermen put in long hours preparing their boats for another salmon season, the Coast Guard is just as busy making sure those vessels come home safely.
"We put in 10-, 12-, 14-hour days some days trying to go as long and hard as we can," said Russell Hazlett, a commerical fishing vessel examiner with the Coast Guard in Anchorage. "We’re only there for a short amount of time and have a small window to get it all done."
This month, Coast Guard crews will check flares, charts, navigational signals, fire extinguishers, emergency position-indicating beacons and survival suits on up to 450 boats across Bristol Bay at no charge. They won’t penalize operators for any problems they discover at the dock, but simply provide them with a worklist of issues to correct. Boats that pass the exam earn a safety decal, which is required to operate more than three nautical miles from shore.
"We’re with the prevention side of the Coast Guard, and we’re here to prevent loss of life, death and injury as well as when the enforcement side comes, hopefully we’re going to prevent you from getting a ticket or getting terminated and getting brought back to the docks during the fishing season," Hazlett said.
Hazlett also warned fishermen to double-check they're renewing their Certificate of Documentation directly with the Coast Guard unless they want to spend an extra $50.
"Be very wary when you’re getting your Certificate of Documentation renewed that it is the Coast Guard you’re dealing with unless you are wanting to deal with a third party. If you’re not paying attention, you’d think you were maybe dealing with us," he said.
It’s easy to see why: The first Google result for “Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation” is an advertisement for a company that charges $75 to complete a renewal a fisherman could do alone for just $26.
The Coast Guard will be on hand for free dockside exams during the Bristol Bay Fish Expo June 8 and 9 in Naknek, including a Q-and-A session at 5 p.m. Friday. Here's where else you can find them and the phone numbers to call to set up an exam:
King Salmon: June 8 to 18 (907-439-5778)
Egegik: June 11 to 15 (907-439-5779)
Dillingham: June 16 to 24 (907-439-5777)
Alternatively, hang a ring buoy high on your mast or anchor to have examiners stop by as they're passing through the boatyards.
For more information on preparing for vessel examinations, operators may visit fishsafewest.info to complete a detailed pre-examination checklist.
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