With the passage by the House of Representatives of a Senate amendment this week, Congress has now competed its action on the 2015 Coast Guard authorization bill HR 4188. The bill will now be sent to the President to be signed into law (enacted).
Link to Bill Text: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr4188eas/pdf/BILLS-114hr4188eas.pdf
This bill is the product of extensive and intensive negotiations within Congress, the Coast Guard and many US stakeholders including the US fishing industry nationwide. SSA was active in these negotiations over the past year and a half on behalf of the US shrimp fleet – particularly in the context of provisions to scale-back relatively recent Coast Guard requirements for newly constructed US fishing vessels to be built and maintained to the requirements of a classification society.  There are dozens of such classification societies operating globally today but some of the larger and more familiar include the American Bureau of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas and Lloyd’s Register.
The cost for shrimp vessels and other US commercial fishing vessels to meet the current classification requirements requirements have largely been found to be prohibitive. Consequently, by forcing older, less safe vessels to remain on the water, these requirements run counter to the industry’s and Coast Guard’s commercial fishing vessel safety objectives.   For that reason, the national Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Advisory Committee recommended that these counterproductive requirements be revised. There follows a very brief summary of the legislation.
Section 318 of the bill provides an exemption for new US commercial fishing vessels of between 50-79 ft LOA that are constructed after the date of enactment of the legislation from the current statutory requirements to meet and maintain the certification requirements of a classification society and to be classed by such society.   This exemption does not go nearly as far as the US fishing industry – including SSA – had requested.  For example, SSA pressed for the upper limit of the exemption to be newly built vessels in the range of up to 110 ft LOA which is more consistent with vessels in the shrimp fleet.  Although considered reasonable by many legislators, SSA’s request was significantly complicated by the requests from other US fisheries that were seeking exemptions for much larger vessels of up to 190ft LOA. An exemption of that size vessel was simply more than the politics could bear.

Thus, newly constructed fishing vessels 50-79 ft LOA will be subject to the new requirements set forth in subsection 318(e) of the bill.  For vessels larger than 79 ft LOA, the existing vessel classification requirements will remain in place for the time being.  While detailed and comprehensive, the following new requirements do represent a marked improvement over the status quo:

(1) The vessel is designed by an individual licensed by a State as a naval architect or marine engineer, and the design incorporates standards equivalent to those prescribed by a classification society to which the Secretary has delegated authority or another qualified organization approved by the Secretary for purposes of this paragraph.
(2) Construction of the vessel is overseen and certified as being in accordance with its design by a marine surveyor of an organization accepted by the Secretary.
(3) The vessel (A) completes a stability test performed by a qualified individual; (B) has written stability and loading instructions from a qualified individual that are provided to the owner or operator; and (C) has an assigned loading mark.
(4) The vessel is not substantially altered without the review and approval of an individual licensed by a State as a naval architect or marine engineer before the beginning of such substantial alteration.
(5) The vessel undergoes a condition survey at least twice in 5 years, not to exceed 3 years between surveys, to the satisfaction of a marine surveyor of an organization accepted by the Secretary.
(6) The vessel undergoes an out-of-water survey at least once every 5 years to the satisfaction of
a certified marine surveyor of an organization accepted by the Secretary.
(7) Once every 5 years and at the time of a substantial alteration to such vessel, compliance of the vessel with the requirements of paragraph (3) is reviewed and updated as necessary.
(8) For the life of the vessel, the owner of the vessel maintains records to demonstrate compliance with this subsection and makes such records readily available for inspection by an official authorized to enforce this chapter.
The bill also includes authority for the Coast Guard to develop an Alternative Safety Compliance Program (ASCP) for newly built vessels no later than 10 years from the date of enactment IF an analysis (report) by the Coast Guard of the requirements set forth in subsection 318(e) are found to be inadequate or that additional safety requirements are needed.  The requirements for that program are spelled out in some detail in subsection (f) of the bill.  It should be noted that this ASCP is completely separate from another ASCP under development by the Coast Guard for existing fishing vessels – another project SSA is working on.
Finally, the bill requires the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct within one year an analysis (in consultation with fishing vessel owners and others) of, among other things, the rates of marine casualties, injuries and deaths on fishing vessels greater than 79 ft LOA.  It also requires a comparative assessment of the costs/benefits associated with the existing vessel classification requirements and those alternative requirements set forth in subsection 318(e).
Securing a requirement for the Coast Guard to evaluate such cost and benefits – and especially casualty rates has been an SSA priority.   This is because the Coast Guard has been relying on data on the total number of casualties in any given fishing fleet without taking into consideration the number of vessels in the fleet or such fishery characteristics as the number of days vessels in any given fleet actually fish each year. True comparisons of casualties among various US fleets and the true safety risks they pose can only be achieved by analyzing casualty rates. Thus, SSA’s goal with the GAO report is to set the stage for another future legislative opportunity to, among other things, raise the upper limit of the vessel size exemption above 79 ft LOA to include the full size range of the shrimp fleet.
In summary, overall this legislation is important in that it-
(1) puts Congress on record of recognizing that the current classification requirements for newly constructed fishing vessels are counterproductive and needed to be revised;
(2) achieves some important incremental progress toward making those revisions; and
(3) creates a process (GAO report) for making further positive revisions in the future.
This was accomplished in a very difficult political environment and under very challenging legislative circumstances. SSA will continue to work toward making further progress on these policies in the future.
Finally, while SSA worked closely with many Members of Congress on this legislation, SSA would like to recognize and thank in particular Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and his excellent staff for working so closely with SSA on this important legislation. Senator Wicker has long been among the most effective champions for the US shrimp industry and SSA is very grateful for his many years of support.