Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

New registration law catches vessel owners unaware


June 27, 2019 | View PDF

A new law that requires all vessels 24 feet or longer—commercial, sport and recreational—to register with the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is causing confusion and annoyance among boaters. The state has not notified boaters about the changes, and local commercial fishermen questioned the purpose of a third state registration on their boats.

The new requirement is part of the Derelict Vessels Act, which came into law in January of this year to curb the increasing problem of abandoned, anonymous ships in Alaska. The purpose of the law is to better track the owners of boats, and hold them responsible for proper disposal.

Kelly Hanke, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Administration, said that the DMV had received no funding for advertising about the new regulations. The department had been swamped with work related to Gov. Dunleavy taking office, Hanke said, as well as with implementing the Real ID Act, a federal law requiring changes to state identification documents.

“It’s been a little bit of a snowball rolling downhill,” said Hanke, adding that the agency was preparing to send out an informational document about the rule changes.

Though the regulation has been in effect since January, boaters have complained about being caught unaware.

“Finding out about it right now, right when we’re all ready to go fishing is very inconvenient,” said commercial troller Lindsay Johnson. Johnson, like most commercial fishermen, already registered with the state through a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC) that costs her $75 annually, as well as with the U.S. Coast Guard, which costs $26 annually. Johnson’s CFEC registration costs $75 annually, though fees can run into the thousands of dollars for other types and sizes of boat. The new DMV requirement will cost another $24, and must be renewed every three years.

“I looked at the form for motor vehicles and it’s like the same stuff that is on both of those other forms, and it’s less complete really,” she said.

Frances Leach, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA), a statewide commercial fishing trade association, said that UFA only found out that the regulation affected the commercial fishing industry in late May, and that The Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, a commercial fishing organization, learned about the changes only two weeks ago.

Leach said that she had been led to believe that CFEC-registered boats would not require the new certification. “It’s not that it costs a lot of money (to get the registration), it’s just that it’s one more hurdle that commercial fishermen and boat owners have to pay to jump through,” she said. “In a lot of situations, you have to stand in line for several hours, or wait until (the DMV) is open,” she said.

Local gillnetter Norm Hughes has already received DMV registration for his vessels, he said, because the DMV clerk in Haines mentioned the new requirements to him. “She told me, otherwise I would not have known,” said Hughes. He said he received no notice from the state.

“It took several trips to the DMV, and I had to run around back and forth,” said Hughes. “I was lucky because most of the time I was there I wasn’t waiting in line.”

According to UFA, commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, seeking to comply with the law, were unable to because the DMV offices in their communities are closed for three weeks in the summer, and the office in Dillingham had run out of registration stickers for vessels.

Last week, UFA President Matt Alward sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Kelly Tshibaka, asking that the new vessel registration requirements be delayed until June 2020.

“As far as we can tell, the commercial fishing industry, spearheaded by UFA is the only sector currently actively working to inform commercial fishermen of the new requirements, even though this affects thousands of non-commercial fishing boat owners around the state. Who is informing them?” wrote Alward.

In an emailed reply sent on Friday, Tshibaka wrote that the regulations would take effect as written, but acknowledged UFA’s concerns. “There has not been sufficient time for law-abiding Alaskans to become compliant with this law yet,” she said.

Leach said that UFA plans to partner with legislators next year to allow CFEC-registered boats to be exempt from the new rules. “That’s going to be our next step,” she says.

The Haines DMV is open between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and closed on those days between 1:00 and 1:45 p.m. for lunch.


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