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Congress Considering New Safety Regulations for Fishing Industry

Congress is considering legislation holding the fishing industry to a significantly higher safety standard in vessel construction in an effort to decrease the fatalities suffered at sea. This bill would require training of all skippers and mandate Coast Guard inspections of vessels.
This proposed bill has been under development for over two years and is championed by Senators Olympia Snowe R-Maine and Maria Cantwell D-Wash, chair of the Senate subcommittee with oversight over the Coast Guard and fisheries, as well as Representative James Oberstar D-Minn, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
This legislation results from the significant dangers of and deaths from working at sea. While there was been a substantial decrease in commercial fishing fatalities in recent years, fishermen are 25 times more likely to die on the job than the national average for occupational deaths. We were reminded of the danger of commercial fishing when the Seattle-based vessels Alaska Ranger and Katmai sank in the Bearing Sea last year, killing 12 fishermen.
55% of all fishing-industry fatalities result from vessels flooding, capsizing or sinking. To deal with such frequency, this proposed bill focuses on safer construction and maintaining of vessels. The proposed legislation seeks mandatory safety inspections and safety training for skippers every two years, inspections and training that are optional under the current regulations. The proposed legislation would also require all new commercial fishing vessels that are over 50 feet and operate more than three miles offshore to adhere to stricter construction and equipment-installation standards. Finally, all fishing vessels over 50 feet and approaching their 25th anniversary of their launch would come under alternative safety standards. These standards would be similar to the extremely successful changes implemented in Alaska during the 1990s. Congress hopes that these improvements will climb to the international forefront on fishing-vessel-construction standards after lagging behind Europe for so long.
While the bill is yet to receive formal opposition in Congress, some object to such strict regulations. The objectors assert that the limited safety improvements for “smaller vessels,” which are vessels between 50 and 79 feet, are not significant enough to outweigh the 10 to 15 percent increase in construction cost. This will, many claim, discourage investment in new vessels. However as Representative Oberstar states, “It’s going to save lives, and you can’t measure a life saved in dollars and cents. If you can’t afford to operate safely, then you shouldn’t operate.”
The law office of Beard Stacey Trueb and Jacobsen encourages Congress to pass this legislation. The maritime lawyers at Beard Stacey Trueb and Jacobsen represent injured mariners throughout the nation in claims involving the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. For any questions regarding maritime law or injuries sustained while working aboard a vessel, contact us at 206.282.3100 or visit our website at

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