Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For New England Fishermen, Tide Turning on Safety ; after a Tragic Accident in 2004, the Fishing Community Is Embracing Safety Lessons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For New England Fishermen, Tide Turning on Safety ; after a Tragic Accident in 2004, the Fishing Community Is Embracing Safety Lessons

Article excerpt

Back when Ben Webster spent his summers lobstering off Maine on his best friend's boat, safety was the furthest thing from his mind. "Honestly, I never knew much of anything," he says. "We thought of the Coast Guard as the cop of the ocean."

Today he's a US Coast Guard inspector who "walks the docks" of Massachusetts, scrutinizing the safety of commercial fishing vessels. And like his own change of heart, he sees the region's fishermen dropping - at long last - their storm-tested resistance to rules and regulations in order to learn the lessons of staying alive.

"There has been a shift in attitudes," Mr. Webster says on a wintry morning at the Boston Fish Pier, where he checks that ships' survival suits are properly stored, and that on-board batteries are fresh.

The capsizing of a scallop boat from New Bedford, Mass., in December 2004 is what stirred the fishing community to action. Five men died in that ferocious storm, the worst tragedy in the region since the sinking of the Andrea Gail in 1991, later memorialized in the book and movie "The Perfect Storm."

In New Bedford, south of Boston, safety classes have since filled to the brim with lobstermen, cod fishermen, and scallopers. They have been so popular that Gloucester, up north, has received a grant to start its own safety program. US Coast Guard inspectors say they are welcomed onto more boats - a positive sign, they add, since their voluntary inspections will soon become mandatory for many vessels under National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) enforcement.

Growing safety consciousness comes at a time of major change in the industry. Restrictions to reduce overfishing have slashed revenues, forcing fishermen to reduce their crews, leaving them with less margin for error at sea. Local fishermen faced another setback recently when the New England Fishery Management Council proposed further reductions to the hours they can spend at sea.

On the Boston docks, Salvatore Bramante, whose family has long had a presence at the Fish Pier, is fixing an emergency light on one of his vessels. He talks easily with Webster, whose team has been inspecting his fleet for years. Safety has become embedded in the culture of fishing today, he says, unlike the days when he used to stock his boat with just two dories, flare signals, and a compass or two. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.