Thank You United States Coast Guard

Published May 3rd, 2019 by Copper River Salmon

May is an exciting month for us here in our fishing community. Boats are being put back into the water and the first Copper River salmon of the season will be freshly harvested on the Copper River Flats fishing grounds. But May is also a time to thank our service members for their work and dedication during Military Appreciation month with both Armed Forces Day on the 19th and Memorial Day.

Lt. Smolkis looks over the navigation equipment inside the bridge aboard the USCGC Sycamore

It’s no secret that commercial fishing can sometimes be a risky business. Our fleet of 540 small vessels relies on up to date technology, solid information and practiced safety procedures to keep them safe out at sea. A calm day can quickly turn sour and dangerous in the Gulf of Alaska. But when the worst occurs it is always heartening to know that the United States Coast Guard is close at hand to aid a fisherman and possibly even save their life.

A storm brewing on the horizon on the Copper River Flats fishing grounds 

Our region of South Central Alaska is serviced by three Coast Guard stations; Cordova, Valdez and Kodiak. Much of the Coast Guard’s responsibility is to maintain navigational buoys, carry out patrols and stand by for quick response to emergencies both minor and major. Here in our fishing fleet’s homeport of Cordova, we have a buoy tender that maintains the navigation and safety buoys throughout the region.

A fisherman carefully navigates the waves breaking over a sand bank on the Copper River Flats

Until recently the buoy tender in Cordova was the USCGC Sycamore, a 225 foot long cutter familiar to any fisherman in Prince William Sound. Cutters require maintenance and are required to cycle out of their ports every so often. Recently the USCGC Sycamore left Cordova and will be replaced by the USCGC Fir.

The USCGC Sycamore is a buoy tender, shown here docked in Cordova

Much of our small community is made up of the Coast Guard families that live or work aboard the vessel. As a fishing port we all see first-hand how important the Coast Guard’s work is both on shore and at sea. Fortunately, new regulations, advances in equipment and educational campaigns have helped make commercial fishing in Alaska safer than ever before. Much of these advancements in safety could not have been possible without the valuable resources of the Alaska based Coast Guard. In Cordova’s New Harbor the Fisherman’s Memorials stands as a sobering memorial of the lives lost at sea and a gentle reminder that small actions can save lives.

The Fisherman’s Memorial in Cordova’s small boat harbor 

Each May our fishing community is able to connect with the Coast Guard before the fishing season in a display of goodwill. In a tradition known as the Blessing of the Fleet, fishermen drive their vessels closely alongside the docked Coast Guard cutter in order to receive blessings and good will wishes from the crew aboard and a local minister or pastor.

Father Tom Killeen stands on the deck of the USCGC Sycamore and speaks to the fleet via VHF radio

The local fishermen’s union, Cordova District Fishermen United, facilitates the Blessing of the Fleet. Guests of the Coast Guard are welcomed aboard on the deck to view the parade of fishing boats and listen as prayers and positive thoughts are spoken via VHF radio for the fleet to hear. Many fishermen bring their families and children along for the Blessing of the Fleet and rain or shine this continues to be an important Spring event for both the fishing community and the local Coast Guard.

This month, as always, we want to thank the men and women who continue to serve our community and other coastal communities around the country. Their work continues to keep our ports safe and functioning so that we can focus on doing what we do best—harvesting the best wild salmon in the world!

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