FISH FACTOR: FCC issues warning on fishing gear beacons
Small electronic beacons that are being widely used by increasing numbers of fishermen could net them big fines.
Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, are easily attached to nets, longlines and pots and signal the locations of the gear via a vessel’s navigation system, laptops, or even cell phones.
The inexpensive buoys, which range from $47 to $199 from most online retailers, are regarded as a Godsend by fishermen in the way they help locate gear as well as being a potential money saver.
“If you’re not sitting on your gear with your vessel either on radar or on AIS, somebody can come along that doesn’t think there’s any gear in the water in the absence of an AIS marker and set over the top of you. Or a trawler could potentially come and nail your gear and it could result in substantial financial loses,” explained Buck Laukitis, a Homer-based fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
AIS is required for boats longer than 65 feet and in certain shipping lanes, said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. But warning bulletins are advising that other users and sellers are subject to fines of more than $19,000 to $147,000 per day for those who continue to use them.
A Federal Communications Commission bulletin says “anyone advertising or selling these noncompliant fishing net buoys or other noncompliant AIS devices should stop immediately, and anyone owning such devices should not use them. Sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS equipment may be subject to substantial monetary penalties.”
The reason for the severe warning?
The systems being used on fishing gear are not authorized by the Federal Communications Commission nor the U.S. Coast Guard. The small AIS buoys transmit a strong signal without essential navigational safety information and can interrupt or obscure the situational transmissions of other boat operators.
“In crowded areas, the signals create a lot of clutter for vessels to navigate around — is it a vessel they are seeing on their plotter or just a buoy?” said Dzugan. “It’s especially problematic for large vessels or tugs with a tow that can’t maneuver quickly.”
He added that the cheaper, small units coming from China also do not have proper standards for signals, which cause more identification problems.
The FCC seems very committed to getting AIS fishing gear buoys out of the water and off the market, said Michael Crowley of National Fishermen.
“Even if you have a certified AIS device, it shouldn’t be used for a fishing buoy because its purpose is vessel safety or personal rescue,” he wrote. “Equipment for tracking nets is authorized only when it operates in the 1,900 to 2,000 KHz band, not AIS frequencies, and they cannot be advertised as AIS approved.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation sent a letter last month to the FCC requesting reconsideration for AIS use by fishermen, Laukitis told radio station KMXT in Kodiak. Meanwhile, he advises fishermen to forego the beacons.
“I don’t think the word’s really gotten out, but we’re kind of in a pickle for this summer,” he said. “Fishermen are definitely not going to want to use these AIS beacons given the FCC’s warning. That means we’re probably going to have a lot more conflicts on the fishing grounds.”
Tanners round two
Crabbers are gearing up for another Prince William Sound Tanner fishery next month. It will be the second go for Tanner crab after last year which was the first opener since 1988.
“The fishery will open March 1 in the western and eastern districts of Prince William Sound, which covers the southwest area of the sound and wraps around to the outside,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer.
Last March 14 boats dropped pots for Tanners and hauled up 82,000 pounds of crab with average weights of just under two pounds, or about 44,000 animals.
Rumble said summer trawl surveys and a first ever pot survey last November came up pretty scratchy.
“In our trawl survey it was pretty much half of the legal males we saw the previous year, so we are not opening the Northern and Hinchenbrook part of the Sound based on those results,” she explained. “In the pot survey we saw some crab, but it was not as good as we hoped so we will be monitoring each area throughout the fishery to make sure we are comfortable keeping it open.”
Crabbers are required to get a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission card, a commissioner’s permit and pot tags, which have been reduced to 25 due to the expected number of participants.
Also mandatory: daily call-ins by 3 p.m. from the fishing grounds.
“There was a mandatory call in last year but the compliance was pretty low,” Rumble said. “We’re really encouraging fishermen to call in because low compliance will result in our being more conservative. We want to work with information that’s coming from the grounds and not try to speculate on what’s going on out there.”
Depending on catch rates, the fishery could remain open through March 31. The deadline to register for the Tanner crab fishery is Feb. 15.
Bivalves help beat diseases
Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels may hold clues to fighting flu and cancer in humans, as well as aiding in bone regeneration.
In studies at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine, oysters were exposed to human bacteria and viruses and fought off the pathogens without antibodies, the proteins that immune systems in mammal use to attack disease.
Likewise, clams could contract a contagious cancer, but also cured themselves without antibodies.
“Clams don’t have chemotherapy or radiation, and somehow they are able to get rid of cancer,” said Jose Robledo, lead author on the study that was published in the journal Developmental and Comparative Immunology.
“How on earth do they do it? Their strategy can give us clues about how to fight cancer in humans,” he told the Bangor Daily News.
Studying immunity in bivalves could help researchers find an alternative to antibiotics, which are becoming more resistant to pathogens. And mimicking the antimicrobial compounds that mussels produce may yield new drugs for both humans and livestock, Robledo added.
Along with helping humans, the research could also benefit the shellfish industry.
Robledo plans to develop recommendations to guide farmers and hatcheries in breeding bivalve stocks for resistance to disease, and for development of strong shells and rapid growth.
The bivalve study was funded by grants from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Health.