The fishing vessel Robert G. Johnston rests on tidelands of Kupreanof Island across from Petersburg’s harbors. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

An exemption for an additional registration requirement for commercial fishing boats in Alaska is moving in the Alaska legislature.

House bill 185 is an update for the state’s derelict vessels act. In 2018 that law was expanded and revised to require registration for larger vessels through the Department of Motor Vehicles. It was meant as another way to track ownership and responsibility for abandoned boats and collect money to remove and clean up vessels if needed. However commercial fishermen have pointed out they already register their boats with the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

Kodiak Republican representative Louise Stutes sponsored this year’s change that would provide an exemption for boats already registered with the CFEC. She pushed for its passage during a house fisheries committee meeting in early February.

“I think this is a good move,” Stutes said. “It removes a duplicative registration requirement on commercial fishing vessels. The amendment strengthens the bill for tracking undocumented CFEC vessels and streamlines preparations for the fishing season while still collecting the data we need on vessel ownership.”

Stutes’ bill has had amendments during hearings in fisheries and transportation committees.

Matt Gruening, a legislative aid for Stutes, explained another change in a transportation committee hearing February 25th.

“This amendment brings the bill to cost neutral by charging an $8 fee per year in lieu of the three-year $24 dollar fee that would have been charged at DMV,” Gruening said. “With this amendment a CFEC vessel will still be required to pay the $8 per year that will be transferred for use by DNR for boating safety programs and the purposes of Senate bill 92 and the derelict vessel fund. They will not be required to go into the DMV though or display the decal on their vessel. So I think it’s a happy medium for what fishermen wanted but still providing the fee for the derelict vessel fund and continuing to send boating safety funding to DNR.”

The DNR is the Department of Natural Resources, which has an office of boating safety and also manages state tidelands, where vessels are sometimes abandoned. That $8 fee requirement would be effective January of next year.

The 2018 registration requirement was pushed by the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators to develop a system for sometimes costly cleanups of abandoned boats. Last year that organization also supported this latest exemption. The association’s executive secretary Rachel Lord testified before the House fisheries committee in early February.

“While we don’t oppose house bill 185, we still believe it is most prudent and reasonable to reduce bureaucratic burden while still maintaining a single database of vessel ownership at the DMV for vessels operating primarily in Alaskan waters, not unlike our boat trailers and vehicles, whether they be commercial or recreational, on public roads,” Lord said.

House bill 185 was passed out of both fisheries and transportation committees in February. A companion bill is also moving in the senate this winter.