Alaska crews deploy to safeguard fishing fleet

Predeployed helicopter

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter predeployed to St. Paul Island from Air Station Kodiak is readied for a flight. While the Opilio crab season has been open since fall, many boats fish in January due in part to shore side processors schedules and the fall push for Bering Sea Red King crab. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Solomon.

As harsh winter weather causes Alaskans to pack up their boats until spring, the Alaskan crab and groundfish fleets brave fierce storms and icy temperatures in search of the big catch. As the fishing fleet gets underway, they can take comfort in the knowledge that Coast Guard search and rescue teams will be protecting them every step of the way.

MST2 Mayrer checks extinguisher

Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody Mayrer, a marine science technician with Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak, checks the expiration date on a fire extinguisher on a fishing vessel. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

Two rescue helicopters from Air Station Kodiak have been forward deployed to remote St. Paul Island, one of four volcanic islands located in the Bering Sea between the United States and Russia. With aircrews standing by on this 40-square-mile island, more than 270 miles from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, they are able to greatly reduce the response distance to a possible emergency during the winter fishing season.

“Winter in the Bering Sea is a combination of the harshest weather and most activity,” said Capt. Bark Lloyd, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District, “In the case of an emergency, critical response hours are significantly reduced by forward deploying aircraft to St. Paul.”

In addition to the aircrews, the fishing fleet will be protected by a Coast Guard cutter carrying a rescue helicopter of its own.

Forward deployment of these assets is the culmination of months of preparation by Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak and Unalaska. These marine safety detachments conducted safety training with the crab fleets as well as voluntary fishing vessel safety exams.

Safety inspection

The expiration of safety equipment, EPIRB batteries and life raft hydrostatic releases are the most common discrepancies found during safety checks. All deficiencies are corrected prior to a vessel getting underway. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

“The Coast Guard continues to vigorously stress the importance of exercising good maritime practices and compliance with safety standards,” said Capt. Adam Shaw, chief of prevention for the 17th Coast Guard District. “The dockside safety examination services offered to commercial fishing vessel owners and operators are especially relevant given our extreme maritime environment and geographic remoteness.”

Despite the best efforts of the Coast Guard, the cooperation of local partners and fishing fleet itself is critical to mission success. To strengthen vital safety and enforcement partnerships in Alaska, the Coast Guard hosts bi-weekly teleconferences with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

With crab pots safely stacked on deck and the fleet out in droves, Coast Guard crews standby ready to protect and look after Alaska’s fishing fleet.

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