Coast Guard Urged to Improve Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Efforts

A new report from the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that to date the U.S. Coast Guard has implemented just five of 22 key statutory requirements for improved vessel safety in the established strategic goals and performance goals for its commercial fishing vessel safety program.

The GAO report, released in early November, noted Coast Guard efforts to conduct dockside exams, engage with industry and collaborate with the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies. The Coast Guard also issued two-year safety decals to all vessels that successfully completed the dockside exams, the report said.

However, the Coast Guard has only partially or not implemented 17 other requirements, according to the GAO, including one to develop alternate safety standards for older fishing vessels, which account for nearly 80% of fishing vessel losses.

Coast Guard officials contend that they do not have the authority to address the requirement to develop alternate safety standards for older fishing vessels. The GAO maintains that based on its review of applicable statutory provisions, the authority rests with the Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 14, the Coast Guard and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced the availability of $6 million in grant funds for commercial fishing safety research and training in the coming year.

Grant funds are for qualified individuals in academia, non-profit entities, municipalities and businesses involved in the fishing and maritime industries. More information is at the NIOSH website,

In June 2016, the Coast Guard issued a proposed rule intended to address nine of the other 16 outstanding requirements, but as of August the rule had not been finalized, and the agency had no detailed plan for implementing those requirements.

Developing and implementing alternate safety standards for older vessels and establishing a plan with time frames for implementing the other 16 requirements would help to address Coast Guard statutory responsibilities and support efforts to prevent fishing vessel losses and related fatalities, the GAO report said.

While there is an established plan for strategic goals and performance goals, the Coast Guard has not fully incorporated other key performance management practices that address all aspects of its strategic goals, setting realistic targets for its performance goals and using data to assess progress.

Fully incorporating such practices could help the Coast Guard to better assess program performance and address performance issues, the report said.

The full report notes that the Coast Guard explained that it has no baseline against which to develop alternate standards for older vessels because survey and classification requirements for non-classed fishing vessels aged 25 years and older do not exist. Safety requirements from 2010 and subsequent authorization acts have not been implemented into regulation.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 included a provision requiring the Coast Guard to develop an alternate safety compliance program establishing safety standards for certain commercial fishing vessels built before July 1, 2012, that are 25 years or older, the GAO said. 

The GAO’s complete 71-page report, as submitted to congressional committees, is online at