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Coast Guard forward deploys crews to St. Paul Island, Bering Sea

KODIAK, Alaska — Coast Guard crews in Kodiak and Unalaska are taking steps to safeguard the crab fleet and other fishing vessels engaged in ground fisheries throughout the winter months this week.

With an increased number of vessels operating in the region, the Coast Guard will again forward deploy two MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crews Thursday from Air Station Kodiak to St. Paul to provide a more rapid response should the need arise.

"In order to respond to maritime life threatening emergencies where hours matter, forward deploying a helicopter to St. Paul during the winter crab fishing season has repeatedly proven to a successful strategy to save lives," said Capt. Bark Lloyd, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District.

By forward deploying aircraft to St. Paul, Coast Guard aircrews eliminate a six hour transit from Kodiak plus an hour refueling stop from the time of initial response to any distressed mariners, critical hours in most situations. Winter is the busiest time of year for fishing activity in the Bering Sea under some of the worst weather conditions. A high endurance cutter will also be in the region ready to respond with an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew aboard.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak is conducting dockside exams and safety compliance checks throughout Western Alaska to safeguard the fishing fleet for the upcoming 2012 opilio and Kodiak tanner crab seasons on Jan. 15.

"These examinations and compliance checks ensure each vessel’s safety equipment and gear are in good working order before fishermen depart for the season openers,” said Lt. Matthew Zinn, MSD Kodiak supervisor. "Fishermen will be able to correct any deficiencies before the season begins Jan. 15. We also encourage them to contact the Marine Safety Detachment for a complimentary dockside exam and answer any questions about commercial fishing vessel regulations that they might have."

MSD Kodiak will deploy teams to King Cove and Sand Point prior to the opilio and tanner crab seasons. Fishermen participating in this fishery are also asked to notify the Coast Guard 24 hours before a vessel's initial departure from port. Any crab vessels with crab pots aboard must notify the Coast Guard via telephone or fax and provide the following information:

• The name and official number of the vessel;

• Name of the person making the notification;

• Number of pots aboard and maximum number of pots their stability letter allows for and;

• The expected time of departure.

This information allows Coast Guard examiners to ensure a safety compliance check was performed on the vessel.

To make the above notification, for departures from Dutch Harbor, Akutan, and Pribilof’s, call MSD Unalaska, 907-581-3466 or fax 907-581-3468; for departures from Kodiak, Sand Point, King Cove, and Cold Bay, call MSD Kodiak, 907-486-5918 or fax 907-487-5585. For all others, call Sector Anchorage 907-271-6700 or fax 907-271-6765.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 37 vessels have preregistered for particiption in the opilio fishery, a number that is expected to increase in the coming weeks, and about 80 vessels are scheduled to register for the Kodiak district tanner crab fishery.

Opilio crab season has been open since Oct. 15, 2011, however most boats fish for Opilio crab in January. This is due in part to shore side processor schedules for products and the fall push for Bering Sea red king crab. The fishery will remain open until the total guideline harvest level of 88,894,000 pounds is caught. The tanner crab fishery opens at noon on Jan. 15 and will remain open until the total guideline harvest level of 950,000 pounds has been caught.

Fishermen who do not have a valid decal for this season can call MSD Kodiak at 907-486-5918 or MSD Unalaska at 907-5813466 to schedule an exam. Fishermen can also call to schedule a free safety compliance check.

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