Today the Coast Guard issued a new Marine Safety Information Bulletin substantially revising their plans for future development and implementation of the Alternate Safety Compliance Program for older commercial fishing vessels.
Please click the following link to view the Marine Safety Information Bulletin:
SSA strongly encourages all owners/operators of commercial shrimp fishing vessels greater than 50 ft LOA built prior to July 1, 2103, or that have been substantially transformed more recently, to read this Bulletin and News Alert carefully.
As stated in the Bulletin:
The Coast Guard is suspending development of an Alternate Safety Compliance Program (ASCP) and will instead develop an Enhanced Oversight Program (EOP) for commercial fishing vessels (CFVs) by January 1, 2017. The EOP will use existing Coast Guard authorities to provide greater safety for older CFVs (see below). In addition, the Coast Guard will publish additional Voluntary Safety Guidelines by January 1, 2017, which offer suggested measures to increase CFV safety on older vessels. The Coast Guard will provide sufficient notice prior to resuming any future development of an ASCP.
SSA is advised that the Coast Guard will continue to seek input from SSA and its members on the development of both the Enhanced Oversight Program and the Voluntary Safety Guidelines.
In the 2010 and 2013 Coast Guard Authorization Acts, Congress added a new mandate for the Coast Guard to develop, in cooperation with the commercial fishing industry, an Alternate Safety Compliance Program for ‘older’ commercial fishing vessels.
Specifically, the ASCP applies to all commercial fishing vessels 50 ft length overall or greater that operate beyond 3 nautical miles, that were built prior to July 1, 2013, and that will be 25 years of age or older beginning in 2020. The ASCP also applies to commercial fishing vessels built on or before July 1, 2013, that undergo a substantial change to the dimension of, or type of vessel, completed after July 1, 2013, or a later date set by the Coast Guard. Congress further mandated that the ASCP requirements be proscribed by the Coast Guard in final form by January 1, 2017, with implementation beginning in 2020.
Subsequently, the Coast Guard issued the following explanation of the need for the ASCP:
Casualty data shows that approximately two thirds of commercial fishing vessels lost to flooding result from hull or equipment failure; poor maintenance is often a factor. The older the vessel, the more likely it is to experience a catastrophic event. The Coast Guard does not have authority to require inspection of fishing vessels. Except for fish processing vessels built after 1990, commercial fishing vessels have not been required to meet construction standards such as survey and classification requirements. Thus, there has been little authority or ability to enforce construction standards and material condition on commercial fishing vessels. Standards to ensure a well-built and maintained vessel and application of equivalent safety standards on older and modified commercial fishing vessels are needed to improve the safety of the vessel. Construction and maintenance standards have been needed for some time and had never been fully addressed in the law or regulations previously.
The Coast Guard has indicated that it would be taking a fishery-specific risk-based approach for developing the ASCP, and that it will focus on those fisheries it believes present the greatest safety risks. These risks were assessed based on data prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) including the following which suggests that the shrimp fishery is the most dangerous fishery in the US, and that the shrimp fishery suffers far more “falls overboard” than any other fishery they evaluated.

Over the past 2 years SSA has taken the lead on behalf of the Gulf & South Atlantic shrimp fisheries to work with the Coast Guard and Congress to address this mandate. In 2015 SSA arranged for CG fishing vessels safety personnel from various Coast Guard Districts as well as from Headquarters in Washington, DC to visit and tour SSA-member shrimp vessels in Alabama and Mississippi. The purpose was for SSA to gain a better understanding of what types of requirements the Coast Guard envisioned and, more importantly, for the Coast Guard to gain a greater first-hand understanding of the practical realities of various requirements directly from our experienced fishermen. Early drafts of the Coast Guard’s ASCP “plan matrix” included numerous requirements that would have the effect of forcing many if not most of the US shrimp fleet to tie-up due to the excessive cost or physical impossibility of meeting such requirements.
SSA also criticized the NIOSH data presented above as incorrectly characterizing the relative safety risks in various US fisheries by presenting only the total number of casualties in a given fishery without accounting for the comparative size of the fleets, numbers of crew and/or number of actual fishing days in a year. Consequently, as would be expected, the data incorrectly suggests that fleets with comparatively large numbers of vessels including the shrimp fishery have the greatest safety risks because they have the greatest total number of incidents, while those fisheries with small fleets are somehow more safe.
SSA strong recommended that NIOSH and the Coast Guard instead present and consider this data on a rate basis – showing the casualty rate per vessel, per crew and/or per days fished. In this way different fleets can be correctly compared as to their relative level and type of safety risks. The new Coast Guard Bulletin does not clarify this issue and so SSA will continue to press for this change in the risk assessment analyses.
Over the past year SSA has continued to provide the Coast Guard with feedback on various versions of their draft ASCP plan matrix, and recently worked with the Coast Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety personnel in the various Coast Guard Districts, to organize a shrimp industry ASCP working group of SSA industry leaders from each of the 8 shrimp producing States.
All along, SSA has also shared its views and concerns with Members and Committees of Congress as well as the national Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee (CFSAC) regarding the NIOSH data analyses, the cost and practicality of various elements in the draft ASCP plan matrices, and the implementation schedule mandated by Congress.
The Marine Safety Information Bulleting issued today is largely responsive to the considerable input the Coast Guard has received from SSA, other fishing industry groups and the Congress. SSA looks forward to continuing to work with the Coast Guard on this new implementation strategy. However, SSA encourages all shrimp vessel owner/operators to contact the Coast Guard with any specific questions regarding the application of this new Bulletin to their vessels.