A well-intended new Alaska law has gone awry – and it means that thousands of Alaskans who are out on the water running fishing vessels, tenders, barges and sport fish boats are breaking the law.

Since the start of this year, all vessels over 24 feet are required to be registered in person with the State at a Department of Motor Vehicles office. It costs $24 and is good for three years.

“You need to get down to the DMV whether you’re documented or not. If you’re documented you have to register and if you are not documented you have to register and get a title.”


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Frances Leach is director of United Fishermen of Alaska.  Senate Bill 92, introduced by Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) and passed last year, is called the Derelict Vessels Act and is intended to help harbor masters and others track down owners of abandoned vessels.

UFA asked the Department of Administration in a letter this week to put the brakes on the law for several reasons; mainly because no one knows about it.

“Why weren’t we notified? Nobody found out about this and nobody would’ve found out about this if we hadn’t alerted people. There was no notification, no public notice, nothing.”

Fisherman Max Worhatch of Petersburg is director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters.

“In fact, we found out about it from a DMV personnel in Haines told one of our gillnetters and he told me and we both called the troopers and they didn’t seem to know anything about it but then later they got back to us and said it was indeed the law. “

UFA and Worhatch also point out that requiring vessel registration at a DMV is reinventing the wheel.

A data base at the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission already has the information, Worhapch says.

All the information on the DMV registration is available at a public website at CFEC. Everything.

In its letter to Commissioner Tshibaka, UFA said the commercial fishing industry appears to be the only sector reaching out to inform fishermen of the new rule, even though it affects thousands of non-commercial fishing boat owners around the state. It asks: “who is informing them?”

The letter requests that implementation be postponed for a year until “state agencies are better prepared and trained and adequate public education and notice is given.”

The new law states that a derelict vessel prevention program shall, to the extent that general funds are available, establish education and community outreach programs.