Regulations to restock fisheries and keep fishermen safe ought to go hand in hand. Unfortunately, in an effort to control how many fish are caught, regulators frequently impose rules that end up putting fishermen in harm’s way. For instance, if fishermen are limited to a set number of days on the water, there is pressure to go out and stay out, no matter the weather conditions. This time constraint also makes it less likely that captains and crew will take safety precautions and get enough rest.
EDF Oceans has joined safety advocates and families of commercial fishermen who have lost their lives at sea in signing a letter urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to ensure that rules to control overfishing do not result in unsafe conditions for fishermen.
Strategies to protect fish stocks are vital, but it’s entirely feasible to accomplish those goals without making fishing more dangerous. Fishery management plans can be designed in a manner that allows fishermen to stay home on stormy days without losing their economic share in the fishery. They will also have more time to make sure their safety equipment is up to date, attend safety trainings and maintain their vessel to meet safety standards. While safety factors vary in every fishery, catch shares can make fishing safer by eliminating derby style ‘race to fish’ scenarios and allowing fishermen to stay at home during stormy weather.
NMFS is currently examining revisions to existing safety standards, which direct the regional fishery management councils to consider safety as a factor when developing fishery management plans. The standard must be strengthened so that protecting human life at sea is paramount, rather than “optional or an afterthought.”
The letter lays out concerns that need to be addressed before rules to govern fishing can be finalized, such as:
- Does the proposed policy result in a derby-style fishery?
- Does the proposed policy include daily catch limits or limited fish days that would push vessels to stay out in poor weather?
- Does the proposed policy result in a vessel working in distant water more than three hours from SAR (Search and Rescue) assets?
The letter was submitted to NMFS and was also discussed last week at the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee (CFSAC) meeting at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. The committee provides recommendations to the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security on safe operation of commercial fishing vessels.
During the meeting, the committee voted to endorse the letter—signifying their support for continuing to encourage NMFS and the councils to make safety at sea a priority when developing fishery management plans.