Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Vessel Registration Issues Spark Confusion

With the commercial salmon season already under way in Alaska many vessel owners are suddenly finding out about a new law effective on January 1, 2019 requiring them to register their vessels with the state Department of Motor vehicles. Under Senate Bill 92, the Derelict Vessel Act, passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2018, fishing vessels are required to comply with the law even if they are documented vessels, for a $24 fee good for three years.

According to an email notice received by members of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, a non-profit multi-gear commercial fishing organization, the law applies to all boats not specifically exempted, including documented boats, barges, sport fishing guide boats and fishing tenders operated more than 90 consecutive days in Alaska.

The alert of the requirement for vessel registration came from Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, who said UFA has been tracking this bill and was told the intent was not to create more hurdles or fees for commercial fishermen.

“However, now that the bill is law, there seems to be several interpretations of this law and Department of Motor Vehicles, Alaska State Troopers and the Department of Administration are not on the same page regarding interpretation and enforcement,” Leach told UFA members. “Making matters worse, there was little to no public notice that vessels would be required to register with the DMV.”

Leach said she spoke with the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators who initiated the bill, and they agree that Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission registration would be sufficient and fulfill their needs, but, she added, “we still need to get everyone on the same page.”

While registration is required, Leach said that Alaska Wildlife Troopers Major Bernard Chastain said his department’s main objective this year will be to educate first and enforce second.

Leach said she also spoke with Alaska state Sen. Peter Micchiche, R-Soldotna, who told her he is hopeful legislation can be introduced next year to change the language in the law to include exemption for vessels registered through the CFEC.

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