About 45 fishermen squeezed into the rec room at Charleston Marina RV Park on Tuesday night to hear a U.S. Coast Guard safety expert explain new regulations for fishing vessel safety that will be rolled out over the next nine years.
By the end of Dan Hardin's presentation, there was a lot more room, as some had walked out in disgust.
'This was one of our friendly crowds," Hardin said wryly.
Hardin is the commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator for the 13th Coast Guard District. It's his job to explain the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 to fishermen in Washington and Oregon.
The bill, which President Obama signed into law Oct. 15, contained numerous provisions related to how the Coast Guard does its work.
More safety gear
For commercial fishermen, the sting is in Title VI, which mandates new requirements for safety equipment on commercial fishing vessels and requires operators to keep records and seek training.
Fishermen at the meeting protested the cost of upgraded safety equipment. As just one example, a life raft for a small fishing vessel can top $3,600, and it needs to be repacked every couple of years at a cost of at least $1,000.
Some suggested providing grants so that the new regulations wouldn't drive fishermen out of business.
Sportsmen, charters exempt
Sport fishermen will be exempt from the new requirements.
'If this is about vessel safety, why is it being directed only at the commercial fishing industry?" someone asked.
Hardin explained that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had determined that commercial fishing was a dangerous occupation.
'Sport fishers aren't having the injuries and fatalities," he said.
His audience jeered. 'The sport fleet is full of judges, doctors, lawyers and attorneys," someone said.
'If this was pushed on them, it would never fly."
They also challenged the exemption for charter vessels.
'How come a charter boat can take six people 20 miles offshore without a life raft, but salmon trollers can't go beyond three miles?" someone demanded.
'A lot of people die on commercial fishing boats, but not on charter boats," Hardin responded.
That provoked an outcry from the attendees, who pointed to 11 deaths on the Taki-Too in Tillamook (2003) and three on the Sidney Mae II in Charleston (2005), sinkings in which passengers were not wearing life vests.
Is anyone listening?
The fishermen questioned the lifesaving value of the changes, and were skeptical of the industry committee that will advise the Coast Guard on their implementation.
'All this [expletive] is coming from the East Coast," one man said.
'You know how come there are so many deaths in commercial fishing?" another asked.
'It's because we have such short seasons to get our quota. We have to go out there in all kinds of weather.
'We don't go out there to go belly up and drown ourselves. We have to make a living."
Organize to resist
Nevertheless, one fisherman urged the group to help out in the rulemaking process by offering comments.
'They're asking us to help them come up with a way to enforce this without putting us out of business," he said.
Another suggested that with organization, it wasn't too late to put the brakes on entirely.
'This can all be stopped," he said. 'The Coast Guard tried to move the rough bar light in Reedsport, and the whole town came out, and they reversed the law."
Hardin couldn't give an exact timeline for the new regulations.
'The Coast Guard was as surprised as anybody when this happened," he said.
Now that Congress has enacted the legislation, the Coast Guard must write the regulations to implement the new laws. That process, taking about 18 months, will involve input from an industry advisory committee and also a public comment period.
The process will be slow because the Coast Guard hasn't received funding or staffing to implement some measures required, Hardin said.
As a first step, he urged vessel owners to arrange a dockside exam as soon as possible, to avoid a rush in October 2012.
Jeff Reeves, a fisherman who is active in industry groups, had a different first step in mind. He said he'd be contacting Oregon's congressional delegation.
'This needs to be tabled for the rest of my life," he said.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234; or at email@example.com.