Danger and Dungeness

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and Dungeness crab fishing is the most deadly of all west coast commercial fisheries. NOAA photo by Jan Haaga.

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and Dungeness crab fishing is the most deadly of all west coast commercial fisheries. NOAA photo by Jan Haaga.

Kitchens all along the Pacific are heating up their pots, pans and ovens for a November culinary classic. Unlike most of the country, it isn’t turkey they are readying for. It’s crab. Dungeness crab.

Chester Bartalini, a Coast Guard auxiliarist, inspects an emergency position indicating radio beacon aboard a crab vessel. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela J. Boehland.

Chester Bartalini, a Coast Guard auxiliarist, inspects an emergency position indicating radio beacon aboard a crab vessel. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela J. Boehland.

California’s commercial Dungeness crab season is scheduled to begin at midnight tonight for the central coast, from Avila-Morro Bay to the mouth of the Russian River, and December 1 for the northern coast, from the Russian River to the Oregon border.

While the opening of the fishery is an exciting period for crab fishermen, it’s also a time to hone in on safety.

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and Dungeness crab fishing is one of the most deadly of all west coast commercial fisheries.

Dozens of Coast Guard members have been walking Pacific coast docks, performing spot checks, inspecting safety equipment and talking with fishermen to identify and mitigate safety hazards in the crab fleet.

In California, crab boats in nine ports underwent dockside examinations. During these free, mandatory safety examinations, examiners – comprised of active duty, auxiliary and civilian members – ensured lights, sound signals and emergency position indicating radio beacons worked properly. Survival suits for the entire crew were also examined in addition to each boat’s life raft.

All along the Pacific coast, fishermen are honing their safety skills. Here, Curt Farrell (left), course instructor and commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland, Ore., and his class look on as Jon Hinman, course student and fisherman from Kodiak, Alaska, starts a dewatering pump in Warrenton, Ore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn.

All along the Pacific coast, fishermen are honing their safety skills. Here, Curt Farrell, commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland, Ore., works with fishermen to start a dewatering pump. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn.

A key discussion examiners held with individual crews was how to load their crab pots as pot-loading can affect both vessel stability and watertight integrity. This type of situation is easily corrected and can help prevent a disaster at sea.

These examinations and conversations may seem simple, but they save lives. Since the program’s inception in 1991, the Coast Guard’s Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Program dockside exams have reduced the number of casualties and helped identify potential problems. In previous years, statistics show nearly one-third of the beacons and life rafts carried aboard fishing boats were incorrectly installed.

When the crab boats drop their first pots at the start of the season, they’ll be prepared. And preparedness means pots full of crustaceans.

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