Operation “Safe Crab” has been set in motion on the Washington and Oregon coasts in an attempt to limit further deaths in the commercial crab fishery. In November, the Coast Guard will be conducting dock-side examinations throughout the Northwest ports for the safety of the crab fleet. These inspections will be limited mostly to inspection of life rafts, epirbs, and survival suits.
The Washington and Oregon commercial crab fishery has a high incidence of deadly accidents. This may be the result of smaller boats operating in what can sometimes be severe weather conditions. However, the Coast Guard notes that most all casualties are preventable if good safety practices are followed. Remarkably, passage of safety regulations for commercial fishing vessels has been opposed by many fishermen due to the high cost of implementation.
Although some safety regulations have recently been passed, they have only slightly lowered commercial fishing fatalities. Many of the regulations do not apply to the Washington and Oregon commercial crab vessels because of their size, and the fact that most all of the vessels are designated as “uninspected.”
The loss of life in the Oregon and Washington crab fishery has been large. A study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety revealed that the death rate in Oregon was 6 times higher than in other commercial fisheries, and nearly ten times higher than that of Washington crab fishermen.
The Coast Guard believes that further regulation of the crab fishing fleet in Washington and Oregon would save more lives and help limit injury accidents. The Coast Guard points to poor vessel conditions, inadequate training in emergency response and use of survival gear, and lack of awareness of stability issues as leading causes of casualties. The Coast Guard’s short term goal is to improve safety awareness in the Oregon and Washington crab fleet. The long term goal is to propose further regulations requiring safety examinations, emergency drill preparedness, crew training, and further improving communications with fishermen regarding casualty prevention.