An Onerous USCG Requirement
By Rep. Bill Thomas
February 16, 2007
A VMS is a costly transponder that regularly reports a vessel's position to the enforcement agencies. While it might make for efficient policing of a scofflaw or making sure fishermen don't venture into waters closed to protect Stellar sea lions, for example, it is not appropriate for the average Alaska fishermen for several good reasons.
First, the VMS costs about $3,000 per vessel. For many commercial fishermen, who are fighting to stay solvent in the face of rising fuel costs, volatile markets, taxes, equipment maintenance and other costs of doing business, another $3,000 is a heavy hit. This is especially true for small boat fishermen.
Second, some of the justifications used by the feds for the VMS proposal are for conservation and safety concerns. As a lifelong fisherman, I believe that the State of Alaska and the NPFMC have done a good job of conserving our fisheries resources and managing for sustained yield. There is no conservation concern that warrants this proposed requirement. Enforcement is already very tight on the halibut and black cod fisheries. Penalties for violations are severe, and the government is able to closely monitor our fishing activity. When we return from a fishing trip it is not uncommon to be greeted at the dock by enforcement officers carrying firearms. Fishermen are regularly boarded at sea by the Coast Guard to ensure that we are in compliance with conservation and safety regulations. Our resources have been proven to be sustainable, and safety has greatly improved in recent years.
Finally, for the average, law-abiding Alaska fisherman, the VMS is an intrusive invasion of privacy. It is the equivalent of putting an ankle monitor on someone who has not done anything wrong. Alaskans should not stand for it.
While the NPFMC is taking testimony on this controversial proposal at its meeting in Portland, most of those who will be impacted by the rule cannot attend the meeting. Your voices should not be ignored, however. I would urge every affected Alaskan to write to the NPFMC at:
North Pacific Fisheries Management
Be sure to send a courtesy copy to:
About: Rep. Bill Thomas (R) is a member of the 25th Alaska State Legislature representing District 5 - Haines.
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