Alaska commercial fishers will only pay to register vessels once under pending bill

fishing boats
Various boats in Kodiak’s St. Paul Boat Harbor on May 2, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Alaska’s commercial vessel owners will no longer be required to pay for registration with two separate state agencies, under a bill passed by the state Legislature.

House Bill 19, which creates the exemption for boat owners, passed the House and Senate on May 15 and is waiting for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s signature.

If made law, as long as a vessel has a valid certificate of documentation from the U.S. Coast Guard and a vessel license through the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, then the registration fee is waived. Currently boat owners pay a $24 registration fee at the Division of Motor Vehicles for powered boats.

When Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, introduced the legislation in committee last year, she said it addresses excess licensing fees from the DMV. She said that certain state laws created more hindrances for commercial fishers in Alaska and she wants to remove the duplication.

“Senate Bill 92 added duplicative state registration requirement on commercial fishermen, overwhelmed DMV offices, and left people wondering why these vessels should have to register with two different state agencies and provide the same information,” Stutes told the House Special Committee on Fisheries.

Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 92 in 2018, commercial vessels that were documented with the U.S. Coast Guard were exempt from registration with the DMV. Stutes first proposed the fee exemption in January 2023.

The CFEC maintains a database of active commercial fishing vessels in the state. It requires an $8 fee for boat owners to renew their commercial license. The new law will accept that fee in lieu of the DMV’s fee, which is $24 for a three-year license registration. According to a legislative aide for Stutes, Matt Gruening, the CFEC will waive the $8 fee for owners who are already paid up on their registration with the DMV.

Gruening told legislators that vessel registration fees will still be used to pay for marine-related programs, even if the DMV is not collecting those fees.

“They’re (vessel owners) still paying their way towards boating safety programs through the (Department of Natural Resources),” Gruening said. “There’s the Kids Don’t Float Program…about $300,000 annually goes into the Kids Don’t Float Program and that is federal match to keep that program going, and the rest goes into the derelict vessel fund after they pay for the licensing fees for the program.”

Aside from getting rid of the DMV fee, the bill also changes rules for the state’s derelict vessel prevention program fund. The fund allows the state to reimburse state agencies and municipalities for removing derelict vessels, specifically from waters of the state and state or municipal property.

Now, if a state agency or municipality sells a derelict vessel then the proceeds will go to the owner unless the owner cannot be found, in which case it will go into the derelict vessel prevention program fund.

The governor can sign House Bill 19, reject it or let it become law automatically without taking action.

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