ANCHORAGE, AK (August 8, 2012) – Fishermen in Western Alaska have been taking to the seas this season with an added level of comfort thanks to lifesaving gear provided by Alaska’s largest Community Development Quota group, Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF).

Earlier this year, the CVRF Board of Directors allocated up to $300,000 to supply U.S. Coast Guard required safety gear for the 20 CVRF communities and their residents who commercial fish for salmon and halibut. These items include: 50 EPIRBs, 450 PLBs, 101 immersion suits, 600 PFDs, 850 strobe lights, whistles, and reflective tape for life-jackets.

The supplies were shipped out before the commercial fishing season began and were distributed to commercial fishers. “I have seen many fishers in Goodnews Bay wearing the lifejackets that CVRF sent out, and it makes me very happy” said Evan S. Evan, CVRF board member and Goodnews Bay resident.

“The crew used the PFDs and the PLB was good to have just in case we had an emergency” said Nick Therchik Jr., commercial halibut fisher and Toksook Bay resident.

Early this year, Coastal Villages conducted a survey of all resident salmon and halibut commercial fishers to determine the level of compliance with all Coast Guard regulations, including the new 2012 requirements, among the fishing fleet. The results of the survey showed that a large percentage of the vessels in the region were lacking required safety gear and equipment. “Our Board saw a need and addressed it. Improving the safety of the CVRF fleet was our top priority this spring/summer. We are encouraged by the cooperation from the U.S. Coast Guard and the CVRF commercial fleet. The Coastal Villages Marine Safety Program will continue working to enhance marine safety for resident commercial fishers and encourage compliance with U.S. Coast Guard regulations” said Neil Rodriguez, CVRF Community Benefits Director.

Coastal Villages reviewed the requirements to have immersion suits and Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRBs) stored in all open skiffs regardless of their size and concluded that open skiffs 26 feet in length or less generally did not have adequate storage and donning space. CVRF worked closely this spring with the US Coast Guard to analyze other alternatives that would both achieve the same result and be a better use of space and equipment. The Coast Guard in turn granted an exemption from some of the requirements to open skiffs 26 feet or less for the commercial halibut and salmon fishers from the 20 CVRF communities. The exemptions are: 1) to require the use of Coast Guard approved lifejackets (class I, II, or III) instead of immersion suits and 2) to use Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) attached to one person on board the vessel instead of the EPIRB on the boat. The Coast Guard analyzed the requested exemptions and determined that granting them would not result in increased safety risks. These exemptions apply only to 26 feet or less open skiffs. Operators of skiffs more than 26 feet were notified to work with the Coast Guard on a case-by-case basis.

“I am proud to get this (exemption) out to your commercial fishermen... I am convinced that this will not only increase safety and save lives, but give your fleet a more reasonable way to come into compliance as we all move forward toward the regulatory changes coming in the next few years” said Ken Lawrenson, US Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator.

“Commercial fishing provides much needed income to the CVRF region and safety concerns reached a high point last summer after we lost a resident fisherman in a tragic accident” said Rodriguez.

The provision of marine safety equipment was just one of a series of benefits CVRF returned to its residents this summer. As usual, more than 1,000 Western Alaska residents were put to work by Coastal’s fishing operations. CVRF helped its neighbors in the Y-K region with nets for subsistence fishing – the only group to provide such assistance. CVRF is continuing its program to provide heating fuel and wood to residents as the cold Fall and Winter seasons approach.
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CVRF is the largest of the six Community Development Quota groups created under federal law. We are the largest Alaskan owned participant in the Bering Sea industrial fishery. Our members are the 20 coastal communities in the Kuskokwim region. CVRF is dedicated to providing the means for economic development of its 20 member communities by creating sensible, tangible and long-term opportunities that generate Hope for residents who want to Fish and Work.