Today’s Catch: Congressional Action

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor
Last month Fishermen’s
 Contributing Editor Terry
Dillman wrote about the US Coast Guard’s decision to close the Newport, Oregon
air rescue facility and the effect that decision could have on the lives of the
region’s commercial fishermen. Coast Guard officials claimed the remaining
Oregon Coast air stations at Astoria and North Bend, along with a new
electronic monitoring network in place all along the entire Pacific Coast,
would offer sufficient coverage to the waters off Newport.
In last month’s piece, Terry Dillman described the efforts
being made by the Newport Fishermen’s Wives (
to lobby their state and federal representatives to keep the helicopter in
Newport. The group even sued the Coast Guard in federal court in Eugene, asking
a judge to block the Coast Guard’s plans.
Newport is about 40 minutes away at cruising speed for the
MH-65 Dolphins stationed at North Bend, and an hour for the MH-60 Jayhawks from
On November 29th, while fishermen in Newport were reading the
December Fishermen’s News with Terry’s story, five commercial
fishermen were fighting for their lives off the Oregon Coast.
At 4:17 a.m ., Coast Guard Sector North Bend watchstanders
received a mayday call over VHF-FM radio channel 16 from the crew of the
75-foot fishing vessel Blazer saying that they were disabled, taking on water,
and jettisoning their crab pots.
The weather was reportedly winds at 30 to 35 mph with seas of
15 feet and rain.
A 47-foot Motor Life Boat was dispatched from Coast Guard
Station Depoe Bay, Oregon at 4:41 a.m. and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew
from Coast Guard Air Facility Newport, Oregon launched at 4:45 a.m.
The helicopter crew from Newport located the heavily listing
fishing vessel and its crew nearby in a life raft, at 5:04 a.m. and lowered a
rescue swimmer into the water to assess the condition of the crewmembers in the
life raft.
After everyone in the life raft was accounted for, the
Dolphin crew hoisted three of the survivors into the aircraft. The motor
lifeboat arrived on scene at 6 a.m. and transferred the remaining two survivors
to the Coast Guard boat.
There is no doubt that the US Coast Guard helicopter crew
saved five lives that morning. The same helicopter crew that was considered
surplus by the budget office was spared the axe because of the local efforts of
groups like the Newport Fishermen’s Wives to motivate their elected
representatives. Credit is also due to the bipartisan group of politicians who
recognized the folly of removing air support from our coastline and fought to
make it a national issue, finding a way around the problem and passing a bill
that blocks the Coast Guard from closing helicopter air stations at Newport and
Charleston, S.C.
The bill, which passed the Senate and the House on December
10th, requires the Coast Guard to keep its air stations open through Jan. 1,
This column is often critical of politicians, so allow us to
note that credit for keeping the Dolphin crew at Newport belongs to the Fishermen’s
Wives, but also to the lawmakers who acted on behalf of their constituents to
right a bureaucratic wrong. Those Congresspeople include Senators Ron Wyden and
Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as
well as representatives from Oregon Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Suzanne
Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer and South Carolina representatives Mark Sanford
and Tom Rice, as well as California. Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. Their actions will
save more fishermen.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: