FISH FACTOR: USCG improves distress call system; Frankenfish lawsuit filed
Alaska fishermen can send an SOS call directly to the Coast Guard, but many are not hooking up to the new lifeline.
Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, instantly signals a distress call over VHF radios to other vessels, and the feature has been a required part of the hand-held units since 1996. In Alaska, the ability for mariners to hook up with the Coast Guard was acquired just last year when transceiver and antenna “high sites” in Southeast and Southcentral regions came on line (more are scheduled soon).
“There was a lot of rumor going around that DSC didn’t work in Alaska. In reality, DSC does and has worked since the technology was introduced, but the Coast Guard couldn’t hear it. And that’s what we are in the process of improving now,” said Mike Folkerts, a USCG Guard Boating Safety Specialist based in Juneau. “Most mariners didn’t realize that they could actually use a DSC-equipped VHF radio and send a digital signal instead of a voice signal.”
During safety training classes, it was discovered that many fishermen are not hooking up the DSC systems properly and completely, said Julie Matweyou, a Sea Grant Marine Advisor and trainer with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.
“So the distress button can’t broadcast their location in the event that they can’t get off a full mayday,” she said.
In fact, the Coast Guard learned that 90 percent of VHF radio distress calls they received do not contain vessel position information and 60 percent have no identity. With that discovery, they launched Operation Distress Connect.
“We learned that many DSC/VHF radios are not connected to GPS,” Folkerts explained, adding that it takes a simple two-wire fix.
Then, a Mobile Maritime Safety Information (MMSI) identification number must be obtained and registered with United States Power Squadrons, and the MMSI number entered into the VHF radio.
“It’s like a personalized telephone number for your VHF radio, and when you press the distress button all the information on that MMSI form is automatically available to the Coast Guard so they are not calling you every two minutes to find out your emergency information,” Folkerts said.
Pushing the distress button on your DSC radio without having the GPS connected and MMSI registered results in an “uncorrelated” distress call, says a USCG pamphlet. It adds: the search ‘box’ for the rescuers can be huge and without more specific location information, our Command Centers cannot launch a rescue. If we know where you are and who you are, we can come and get you. Making your DSC VHF radio fully functional will help take the “Search out of Search and Rescue”.
Overall, Folkerts added that DSC is a far better system.
“You can push that distress button and send out a DSC signal and your radio will continue to send out the all the positioning and personal information,” Folkerts said. “You’re not hooked by the microphone umbilical cord, you can actually go about taking care of business if you have a boat fire or person overboard or you’re taking on water. So it’s a huge advantage in that regard alone.”
A diverse coalition of environmental, consumer, and fishing organizations has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving AquaBounty’s genetically engineered, or GE, salmon.
The complaint, which was filed March 31 in a district court in California, claims that the FDA did not have proper authority to approve GM salmon last November.
AquaBounty, which will grow the manmade salmon in pens located in Canada and Panama, pushed for 20 years to get the ok for the fish to be sold in U.S. markets. The larger and faster growing AquAdvantage fish is made by inserting genes from two fish — a chinook salmon and an ocean pout — into an Atlantic salmon. It is the first animal approved for human consumption.
The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, said seafood market expert John Sackton.
“It argues that those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GM animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation,” he wrote.
The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law.
“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety told SeafoodSource. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GM fish, harms FDA refused to even consider. It’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GM animal, nor any future GM animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”
More than 1.5 million people wrote to the FDA in opposition to the so-called Frankenfish, and 65 supermarkets so far have said they won’t carry it.
Loans up to $100 million are available from the federal government for businesses involved in fishing, aquaculture, mariculture or seafood processing for the purchase or improvement of facilities or equipment. The money comes from NOAA’s Fisheries Finance Program in loans ranging from five to 25 years at low interest rates.
“We can do loans for everything but building a new boat or activities that contribute to overfishing,” said Paul Marx, NOAA Fisheries financial services division chief.
The NOAA loans may be used to purchase a vessel as long as it is not brand new and does not increase overall harvesting capacity. The loans also can refinance existing debt under certain circumstances.
Alaskans also can get state loans for mariculture ventures, as part of an initiative launched by Gov. Bill Walker.
In February Walker created the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, a diverse group of 11 people with expertise in mariculture and business in remote areas. The group is set to have its first meeting this month and name more interested people to open seats.
The task force is chaired by Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which believes an Alaska mariculture industry can be worth $1 billion in 30 years.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development has launched a $5 million Mariculture Revolving Loan Program aimed at helping start-ups or expanding mariculture businesses. Companies can borrow $100,000 per year with a $300,000 cap. Loans must be for the planning, construction, and operation of a permitted mariculture business.
The state provides pre-approved tidal tracts for Alaskans interested in growing shellfish and seaweeds, and takes applications each year through April 30.