Congress is considering changes to 2010 legislation that sought to improve the safety of new fishing vessels. Lawmakers might give nongovernmental groups less of an oversight role in boat construction.
Congress is working on changes to a significant part of 2010 legislation that sought to improve the safety of new fishing vessels.
The provision was part of a major overhaul of the federal fishing-industry safety laws included in the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. It gave nongovernmental organizations, known as class societies, a new role in developing standards and monitoring construction of new fishing vessels of more than 50 feet in size.
That provision has run into opposition from fishermen concerned about the costs and the regulatory burdens of involving these organizations in the construction of new fishing vessels. Both the Senate Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2015 introduced Friday and a bill that already has gained passage in the House would remove class societies from a direct oversight role in the construction of smaller fishing boats.
These societies — some structured as foundations and others as companies — have long been involved in developing standards for larger vessels, including some fish processors.
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They also conduct periodic inspections once these vessels are in operation, and this work helps insurers assess the safety of ships they are being asked to underwrite.
Safety advocates have hoped that small fishing boats, which suffer many of the industry casualties, could see death tolls reduced by being built to class standards.
“Classification is a well-known, internationally recognized system for dealing with safety issues on vessels,” said Blaine Collins, vice president for government relations with DNV GL, a class society.
The Senate bill would require vessels of 50 to 190 feet to be built to standards equivalent to those developed by classification societies, but it would not require the involvement of a class society.
The House bill would exempt fishing vessels sized from 50 to 79 feet in length from being built to class, and instead would have the federal government set up an alternative-compliance program for new vessels of this size built after July 1, 2013.
DNV GL has been working since 2011 to develop new standards for smaller fishing boats, and Collins said the society has tried to address industry criticism of their rules as the provision took effect in 2013.
“We put an awful lot of work into this,” Collins said. “We really do firmly believe that this is going to lead to a safer industry.”
Raman Ahuja, a DNV GL representative in Seattle, said building to class could add from $40,000 to $50,000 to the cost of building a small fishing vessel. He said the industry has been slow to build small boats to class, with some fishermen constructing vessels from old keels to avoid coming under the new federal provision.