Organizations Push to Boost Grants for Fishing Safety

Instructors with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) will provide fishing vessel drill conductor classes from Unalaska to Maine through April 2020, thanks in part to a two-year federal grant totaling $650,000.

The grant, which was awarded on Sept. 1, 2019, requires AMSEA, based in Sitka, Alaska, to come up with equal matching funds. According to Jerry Dzugan, executive director of AMSEA, it took nearly eight years for the money to be awarded.

The federal legislation approved by Congress back in 2010 for the marine safety training and research grants called for a 75 percent federal contribution and 25 percent local matching funds, but in 2018 that federal share was reduced to 50 percent.

Now Reps., Don Young, R-Alaska, and Jared Golden, D-Maine., have introduced the Funding Instruction for Safety Health and Security Avoids Fishing Emergencies (FISHSAFE) Act, to raise the federal grant portion back to the original 75 percent.

“Fishing is one of Alaska’s most important industries, and we need to be doing all that we can to ensure our fishermen remain safe on the job,” Young said, in an Oct. 18 statement announcing the introduction of the new legislation.

“This bill would make fishing safety programs available to as many fishermen as possible to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths,” Golden added.

The current funds were included in the budget for the U.S. Coast Guard, which partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to award the grants. AMSEA is one of four organizations receiving funding.

The bipartisan legislation sponsored by Young and Golden would also reauthorize the safety training and research programs for $6 million a year for 2019-2021.

Companion legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., Angus King, I-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, John Reed, D-R.I., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Dzugan thinks the chances of the bill passing are good. “It’s bipartisan for the most part, and moderates are looking to anything they can reach across the aisle on. I’m optimistic by nature, which is needed for this kind of work.”

“The 2010 legislation stated that “the federal share of the cost of any activity carried out with a grant from this subsection shall not exceed 75 percent”,” Dzugan said. “Thus, there was an assumption that the co-share (as it is called) by a private entity would be 25 percent. Apparently when Congress for the first time finally appropriated the authorized funding in 2018, the Senate side raised the co-share to 50 percent of the grant. It is also confusing, because while they call it a $650,000 grant, it is over the course of two year (thus $325K/year) and 50 percent of the amount has to come from other non-federal sources. But it’s still called a $650K ‘grant’.”