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Video: 10 Tows in 7 Days as Pacific Northwest Crab Season Gets Started

Published Dec 8, 2021 11:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

For the first time in years, the Pacific Northwest Dungeness Crab fishery has opened on time - but the scramble for the region's most valuable catch is creating safety concerns, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Over the first week of the season, Coast Guard crews across the Pacific Northwest had to tow 10 disabled or distressed commercial fishing vessels back to port. Coast Guard crews along the full length of the coastline - Grays Harbor, Cape Disappointment, Coos Bay, and Chetco River - all contributed to the tow operations. 

In addition to towing services, the Coast Guard has provided fishing vessels with safety escorts across restricted bars. The season opening coincided with heavy weather along the coastline, creating hazardous conditions at bar crossings. Small recreational vessels can't legally cross when a bar is restricted due to unsafe conditions, but commercial fishing vessels are allowed - and many attempted crossings have ended in tragedy.

Under the wrong conditions, big waves rolling into the shallow water of a bar crossing can turn a fishing boat sideways and capsize it in a matter of seconds. Coast Guard vessels often escort commercial boats across the bar in rough conditions, and for nighttime crossings, prior notice is required. 

Restricted bar crossing at Newport, Oregon, inbound with heavy swells, 2014

"Although commercial fishing vessels are not prohibited from crossing a restricted bar, it should be noted that Coast Guard personnel stationed along the coast have used their professional maritime experience and knowledge of local environmental conditions to place restrictions on the bar by determining that unsafe conditions exist," said Lt. Carl Eschler, chief investigations officer at Marine Safety Unit - Portland. 

When commercial fishermen do need to cross a bar under hazardous conditions, the Coast Guard asks them to take prudent safety steps, like closing hatches, securing loose gear, and wearing a lifejacket while working on deck.