Dungeness crab season is off to a rocky start.
U.S. Coast Guard crew across the Pacific Northwest have towed 10 disabled or distressed commercial fishing vessels back to port in the first week of the Dungeness crab season, which began December 1.
These tow operations, along with numerous safety escorts, have ensured the safe passage of several fishing crews and more than 100,000 pounds of crab, through hazardous bar conditions.
Coast Guard crews stationed in Grays Harbor, Cape Disappointment, Coos Bay, and Chetco River, have contributed to the total of 10 tows. Other vessels have also been escorted across the bar. The safety escorts are conducted when dictated by hazardous conditions, the Coast Guard said.
Below is a rescue/tow that took place on Dec. 4:
The start of this year’s Dungeness crab season has coincided with several bar restrictions as a result of rough conditions. When a bar restriction is in place, the operation of recreational and uninspected passenger vessels of the length specified in the restriction is strictly PROHIBITED unless specifically authorized by the Coast Guard.
In the event that a commercial fishing vessel intends to cross a bar during hazardous conditions, the Coast Guard recommends following a minimum safety checklist, which is included in full at the bottom of this post.
In general, commercial fishermen are required to wear personal flotation devices or immersion suits if on deck while crossing the bar during active bar restrictions. The use of a personal floatation is also recommended at all times while on deck and, if mariners are operating within closed spaces aboard a vessel, personal flotation devices must be readily available.
Commercial fishing consistently tops the list of most deadly occupations due in large part to challenging work environments, such as poor weather and rough waters.
Dungeness crab season comes with inherent dangers. In January, the Coast Guard rescued three people after their commercial crab fishing boat lost propulsion and struck a jetty while attempting to transit through the entrance channel in northern California’s Humboldt Bay. In 2014, four fisherman were killed when their 32-foot fishing boat capsized near Bodega Bay on opening day of dungeness crab season in California.
“Coast Guard rescue personnel continue to put in long hours working in hazardous conditions to ensure the safety of the commercial fishing fleet,” said Lt. Carl Eschler, chief investigations officer at Marine Safety Unit – Portland. “Although commercial fishing vessels are not prohibited from crossing a restricted bar, it should be noted that Coast Guard personnel stationed along the coast have used their professional maritime experience and knowledge of local environmental conditions to place restrictions on the bar by determining that unsafe conditions exist.”
- Check current bar conditions, weather forecasts, and tides tables
- Check bar restrictions and notify the Coast Guard if intending to cross the bar if vessel length is less than the restriction length
- DO NOT CROSS if a Captain of the Port (COTP) closure is in effect
- If crossing a restricted bar after sunset and before sunrise, commercial fisherman MUST notify the Coast Guard
- Notifications shall include:
- Vessel name
- Vessel location
- Number of persons on board
- Destination (inbound, outbound, etc.)
- Vessel limitations (steering, propulsion, etc.)
- Discuss escort options with the Coast Guard if necessary
- Complete thorough inspection of spaces and ensure all doors and hatches are secure
- Secure all loose gear on deck
- After crossing the bar:
- Account for all personnel aboard the vessel
- Report safe crossing to the Coast Guard
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