Odds and Ends

Newsworthy events from the Sea Grant community.

Fisherman Safety Training

With funding from NOAA, MIT Sea Grant and The Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership have started their second year of offering free, hands-on safety training event to commercial fishermen and their families. The program covers safety, fire and damage control, rescue procedures, raft deployment, flare and EPIRB use, survival suit use, Mayday calls, helicopter rescue, and an introduction to first aid.

At a training session in Gloucester in late April, some 60 fishermen practiced getting into their "gumby" suits, jumping into the water and climbing into a raft. Participants also extinguished fires, shot flares, and used a leak kit to repair various simulated leaks. In the First Aid introduction, fishermen learned how to treat cuts and infections and deal with fish poisoning. They also learned about some less obvious occupational hazards: the toxicity of many paints used to paint buoys, and the dangers of particulate matter from sanding boats and buoys.

At one training session, says MIT Sea Grant's Madeleine Hall-Arber, a fisherman discovered that his survival suits leaked. He then bought new ones not long before he found his boat taking on water. "He didn't panic because he'd had the training," says Hall-Arber. "He got the suit on and he took the training again."

Thus far, 160 fishermen have taken advantage of the training. More classes are slated for this spring and summer in Chatham and possibly Pt. Judith, RI.

Robots on the River

NOAA Chief of Staff Scott Rayder recently joined MIT Sea Grant in hosting Robots on the River, an opportunity for some 120 students and the general public to see marine robots in action. Part of the first Cambridge Science Festival, the event featured the AUV Lab's autonomous surface craft, Katrina, powering along on the Charles. Initially created to safely and quickly collect information about pollution in Lake Pontchartrain after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the boat can take measurements in lakes, rivers, and calm ocean environments, running autonomously or via remote control. Students also got to try their hand at operating a Sea Perch, a simple remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that students can build and test in their classroom. And researchers from Bluefin Robotics--the company formed in 1997 by researchers from MIT Sea Grant's AUV Lab--introduced students to their AUVs as well-vehicles that conduct oceanographic research, survey the sea floor for deep ocean foil drilling, and help the US Navy locate enemy mines in sea lanes, beaches and harbors. All "wicked swift," as one student put it.

Aid for Red Tide Losses

A devastating red time bloom closed shellfish beds from Maine to Massachusetts in the spring of 2005, prompting the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to close over 1.3 million acres (over 75% of the Commonwealth's marine waters) in 42 coastal communities to all types of shellfishing.

In June 2006, Congress passed the Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery, setting aside $5 million to assist fishermen affected by fisheries disasters declared in 2005. Maine and Massachusetts each received $2 million to address the economic hardships of shellfish harvesters. This spring, Woods Hole Sea Grant's fisheries and aquaculture specialist Bill Walton assisted the DMF with grant writing training for affected shellfish harvesters interested in applying for these funds.

Funds will be distributed to eligible applicants based on two weighted factors, relative to other applicants: the length of time the harvester was not allowed to shellfish and the typical harvest amount for that harvester. Applications were due in April, and DMF hopes to have payments distributed by the end of this summer. For more information, see Red Tide Relief at mass.gov

Model Coastal Floodplain By-law

The U.S. coastal population is predicted to expand from approximately 100 million people to 177 million by 2010. This is occurring as property losses from coastal disasters continue to skyrocket, reaching more than $150 billion in the 1990s. Predictions of a very likely increase in storm intensity, coupled with an acceleration in the rate of sea level rise, indicate this upward trend is likely to continue.

Building on Sea Grant's model of providing state-of-the-art scientific and legal information to enhance preparedness and reduce losses of human life, property, and environmental resources from coastal natural hazards, Woods Hole Sea Grant has partnered with Barnstable County's regional planning agency, the Cape Cod Commission (CCC), and Edward Thomas, an attorney specializing in national floodplain case law, to develop a national model coastal floodplain by-law/ordinance.

The objectives of this project, which is funded by the National Sea Grant Law Center, are to research precedent-setting coastal floodplain case law, review our current scientific understanding of the physical beneficial functions of the coastal floodplain, and analyze existing model by-laws of the CCC and other groups in the nation to generate a model by-law or ordinance that is based on these legal and scientific understandings. and will be transferable nationally.