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January 14, 2009

Fishermen urge better use of VMS

Congressman says Coast Guard should use tracker for rescues

NEW BEDFORD — A nascent coalition of political and fishing interests came into being yesterday around the notion that the VMS tracking or vessel monitoring system used to enforce the regulation of commercial fishermen could be as helpful — and should be — in finding and saving them.

Meeting here less than two weeks after the Coast Guard had trouble working the VMS system for data on the whereabouts of a Gloucester trawler — it sunk with its two-man crew on Jan. 3 — the political leadership of the state's leading fishing ports joined hands yesterday with congressional and industry forces.

The agreement was spontaneous and emotional that the Coast Guard make better use of the VMS system in search and rescue operations.

Acting on the urging of Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, a periodic meeting of fishing and political interests, organized by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, gave rousing support to adding a reform of the VMS system to the impending Amendment 16, which will govern fishing activities for the New England region.

The loss of the Gloucester-based fishing vessel Patriot and its crew of a father and his father-in-law, Lang said, was a "reminder of the uncertainty of this way of life."

At the same time, the meeting's participants agreed to add reform of VMS to a formal list of topics Congressman Barney Frank has put before the nation's top fishing regulator, Dr. James Balsiger, acting administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A third achievement of the meeting, Kirk said, was the successful test for "kindred spirit support" in pressing the Coast Guard for better search and rescue use of the VMS technology.

Kirk also said she intended to use her position on the state Ocean Advisory Commission to lobby for a more agile approach to the use of the tracking technology.

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