Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has championed rules to increase vessel safety and improve working conditions in the fishing industry. Her efforts paid off with legislation that finally passed both houses of Congress.

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FOR far too long, memorial tributes were the sum and substance of recognition for the hazards facing men and women in the fishing industry, which has the nation’s highest worker fatality rate.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has fought long, frustrating congressional battles to improve vessel safety and working conditions. She has also pushed to strengthen oil-spill protections for coastal waters around the United States. Her persistence has paid off.

Last week Congress approved a Coast Guard Authorization bill that is a presidential signature away from establishing new vessel standards and safety improvements. New rules set training and safety standards where no safe operating guidelines exist.

The legislation phases in changes for older boats and creates new standards in an industry in which vessel design is not reviewed and inspections are voluntary. The risks have been known. A Coast Guard analysis of 934 deaths between 1992 and 2007 assigned 55 percent of the fatalities to vessels flooding, capsizing or sinking.

Cantwell has spent four years working on legislation that not only looks at the fishing industry and oil-spill prevention, but also the financial soundness of efforts to update the Coast Guard’s fleet.

Over the years, House-passed legislation has died in the Senate. The current Coast Guard bill passed the House in the fall of 2009, and a version passed the Senate in May. Cantwell and others had to overcome various parliamentary ploys to kill the legislation before the two chambers agreed on the final wording.

Cantwell stayed focus from start to finish, authoring sections of the bill and working to get the package passed into law. Lives will be saved because of her efforts.