The Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet, homeported in Ketchikan, conducted a boarding on the Kodiak-based fishing vessel Topaz 14 miles east of Cape Chiniak near Kodiak Island Jan. 14, 2010. The crew found a lack of survivial suits on board and terminated the fishing vessel’s voyage. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy cutter Acushnet)
Last week the Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet terminated the voyage of the Kodiak trawler Topaz during a boarding 14-miles southeast of Cape Chiniak. The Ketchikan-based Acushnet was on routine patrol and conducted boardings of four other boats near Kodiak Island. The Topaz was conducting a test trawl to ensure all its gear was in working order, but according to Lieutenant Kirk Fistick, operations officer on the Acushnet, the trawler did not have any survival suits onboard at all. Coast Guard rules require an immersion suit for each crewmember whenever the boat is underway.
The boarding crew stayed aboard for eight hours and escorted the Topaz back to Kodiak where the survival suits were stored. The Topaz was allowed to get back underway the next day.
The incident highlights how seriously the Coast Guard takes fishing boat safety. Members of the Guard in Kodiak and Unalaska have been conducting dockside inspections for the last month for both the Bering Sea Opilio season and the Kodiak Tanner fishery. On Thursday, Petty Officer First Class Darryl Harvey conducted an exam of the fishing vessel Major at the docks in Kodiak.
— (Fishing Safety 44 sec "To start out, all these fishing … make sure it works.")
He said expired safety equipment, expired EPIRB (ee-pirb) batteries and expired life raft hydrostatic releases are the most common discrepancies found during Coast Guard safety checks.
Meanwhile, a pair of Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters have forward-deployed to Saint Paul in preparation of the Opilio season. By stationing the helicopters there, they can avoid the seven-hour flight from Kodiak in case of an emergency on the Bering Sea fishing grounds.
Currently there are a number of longliners on the northern portion of the area pursuing Pacific Cod and Greenland Turbot. The Coast Guard also reports there are numerous pot boats harvesting Pacific cod, and expect some of them will change their target species to Opilio crab.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 92 vessels are registered for the Opilio crab fishery. Of those, 35 vessels have checked in with the Coast Guard and verified plans to fish.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jon-Paul Rios said that while examiners still look at vessel stability books and ensure pots are stacked within the guidelines laid out in those books, it has been about five years since examiners found a captain to be overloading his boat with crab pots.
Thanks to Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally for his help on this story.