Nautical News: For the week of November 10, 2013


Fishermen are so tired of all the government’s fishing hearings and regulations, that only a handful showed up to hear what the Massachusetts congressional delegation had to say at the State House. Two panels of experts told legislators that fishermen and their families needed financial help; that the science used to estimate fish populations needed a lot of improvement in accuracy and timeliness; and that arbitrary time frames to rebuild fish stocks needed to be extended. The legislators in attendance included Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, U.S. Representatives John Tierney and William Keating, and Alaskan Senator Mark Begich, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. Begich is leader of the effort to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal legislation that both funds and delineates fisheries management. Once again fishermen were promised that Congress was going to help with fisheries aid money. However, the last time money was promised, much of it went to the regulatory bodies and very little went to the fishermen. However, one thing seemed more apparent this time around. There seemed to be a consensus that the fisheries regulations known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act must be changed and that the government’s so called science must be improved.



Remember the story last summer about the about the boat that crashed into a construction barge on New York’s Hudson River, killing a bride-to-be and her fiance’s best man? Survivors as well as the captain’s family insisted that alcohol was not involved and blamed the barge’s poor lighting, which the Coast Guard said was legal. Well, it has now being reported that the operator of the boat had a blood alcohol level of .15, nearly twice the legal limit. He has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, two counts of criminally negligent homicide, and two counts of operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It was also reported that traces of cocaine were found in his blood as well. The fatal accident happened the night of July 26 when the 19-foot powerboat collided into a barge beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge at high rate of speed. Bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart, 30 years of age, and her groom’s best man Mark Lennon were killed. Several others on the boat, including the groom were injured.



NOAA scientists think they now know the cause of deaths of thousands of bottlenose dolphins along the mid-Atlantic coast this past year. The deaths have been attributed to a virus and not to the U.S. Navy’s sonar tests. Elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins of all ages have occurred in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The dolphins were found with lesions on their skin, mouth, joints, or lungs. It has been 25 years since the virus last attacked hundreds of marine mammals along the mid-Atlantic coast. That massive die-off, along with a humpback whale mortality event in 1987 off the coast of Massachusetts prompted Congress to formally establish the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.



A new stock assessment conducted last month by the scientific committee of ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, concluded that the North Atlantic swordfish caught by U.S. fishermen remains rebuilt at a sustainable population level. The fish are abundant and are above the population level goal set by the Commission in 1999. In 2012, U.S. landings of North Atlantic swordfish were the highest since the 1990s, while still remaining sustainable, and growing in 2013. Consumers can be sure that by buying North Atlantic swordfish harvested by U.S. vessels, they are supporting a sustainable fishery.



The Coast Guard coordinated a rescue in the wee hours of the morning of a sailor approximately 700 miles east of Cape Cod. An emergency distress signal was received by the Coast Guard from a 34 foot Canadian sailboat named the “Easy Go.” A Coast Guard aircraft from Station Elizabeth City, Maryland immediately launched to locate the sailboat. Once found, nearby commercial ships were asked to help and two container ships responded. They both arrived on scene and communicated with the sailor who told him he was the only on board and was not injured. He said his sailboat had lost its mainsail. Weather on scene was 15 to 20 foot seas with 40 knot winds. The sailor was taken aboard one of the ships and went with it to its next port. The 1st Coast Guard District covers from New Jersey to the Canadian border with search and rescue duties extending approximately 1,300 miles from shore. A Coast Guard spokesperson said that on any day there are more than 5,000 ships available to help carry out search and rescue services.



The crew at Coast Guard Station Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard was presented the Sumner I. Kimball award plaque and pennant. The award recognizes excellence in crew proficiency, boat and personal protective equipment condition, and compliance with established training requirements. Of the Coast Guard’s 192 stations across the United States, only about 17 receive the Sumner I. Kimball award annually. Station Menemsha previously won the award in 2004 and 2007. Sumner I. Kimball was a young lawyer from Maine who was appointed as the chief of the Treasury Department’s Revenue Marine Division back in 1871. According to a Coast Guard history, Mr. Kimball’s greatest impact was on the creation of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. He convinced Congress to increase the funding of the Service to provide for full-time, paid crews working at various stations. In 1878, this growing network of stations was organized as a separate agency of the Treasury Department and was named the U.S. Life-Saving Service.



Federal prosecutors want a man who smuggled Totoaba fish bladders into the United States from Mexico, and then sold them in Asia for 3 million dollars, to pay back the $3 million to the court and forfeit his $350,000 house. The Assistant U.S. Attorney said the punishment was necessary to discourage others from trafficking the swim bladders of the endangered Totoaba (toe-TWAH-bah) fish, which are only found in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. So far this year, six other people have been charged with smuggling Totoaba bladders. The fish bladders are prized in China for their purported medicinal properties and can sell for as much as $10,000 apiece. They are used to cure everything from skin disease to infertility. Scientists said that the demand for the Totoaba, which can grow up to 7 feet and weigh 220 pounds, has contributed to the their critically endangered status.



And last on today’s nautical news, the trial of Captain Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia, has taken an interesting twist. Captain Schettino is on trial for manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster, and abandoning ship. As part of his defense, the captain has blamed his Indonesian helmsman for the accident by failing to obey orders to slow down and steer away from rocks. It is possible that a language barrier between the captain and the helmsman might have played a role in the cruise ship accident. However, it has now been revealed that an exotic dancer was on the bridge with the captain, and although she has admitted to having an affair with him, she has insisted at his trial that her presence on the bridge did not distract him on the night the ship ran aground on the island of Giglio. The 26 year old female said that she felt sorry for Captain Schettino’s wife, but that he knew what he was doing when the pair embarked on their two-week fling. She quickly added: “I don’t think I’ll ever get involved with a married man again.” The trial resumes on Monday and then it might be divorce court. An exotic dancer with the captain driving the ship and then it goes bang, into the rocks.

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