Commercial vessels, in particular commercial fishing vessels, are often chartered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to engage in scientific research. There is a long-standing agreement between the Coast Guard and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) dating back to 1980, which requires NOAA to notify the Coast Guard prior to a commercial vessel being contracted.
When that notification is made, the Coast Guard coordinates an inspection, if necessary, to ensure the vessel is in compliance with applicable safety requirements. Further, some vessels may be authorized to operate as research vessels; this also involves a Coast Guard inspection and the issuance of “letter of designation” as a research vessel.
The purpose of the agreement and applicable policies is to ensure consistent application of safety requirements for the benefit of both the crew of the vessels and the NOAA scientists that get underway on them. At this time, there have been no changes or proposals to change existing policies, regulation, or statutes pertaining to commercial fishing vessels or research vessels.
Over the past year, Coast Guard and NOAA have had ongoing discussions regarding commercial vessel charters. On Aug. 29, 2016, the Coast Guard sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries Chief Science Advisor and Director of Science Programs, which was intended to clarify the statutory definitions that may apply to NOAA chartered vessels, depending on the scope of work being conducted. The letter was not intended to halt NOAA’s currently executed contracts or planned contracts with commercial vessels.
The Coast Guard and NOAA NMFS will continue to work together and share information to ensure NOAA chartered vessels adhere to a the proper level of safety, part of that work will include updating the 1980 agreement. If existing policies need to be amended, the commercial fishing industry and stakeholders will be given ample opportunity to comment prior to the implementation of any changes.