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Commercial fishers no longer required to register vessels twice, exempt from Alaska State DMV fee

Various boats in the St. Paul Boat Harbor on a sunny day, May 2, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)
Various boats in the St. Paul Boat Harbor on a sunny day, May 2, 2023.

Alaska’s commercial vessel owners will no longer be required to pay for registration with two separate state agencies. A bill [House Bill 19] creating the exemption for boat owners, passed the State Legislature last week on May 15 and is waiting for the governor’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 [CFEC], then the registration fee is waived. Currently boat owners pay a $24 registration fee at the Department of Motor Vehicles for powered boats.

When Representative Louise Stutes of Kodiak introduced the legislation in committee last year on Feb. 2, 2023, 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 explained to 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, HB 19, back in Jan. of 2023.

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (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. Now, the new law will accept that CFEC fee in lieu of the DMV’s fee, which is $24 for a three-year license registration. According to Stute’s legislative staff, 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 DNR [Department of Natural Resources]. 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,” Gruening said.

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.

Governor Mike Dunleavy can sign House Bill 19, reject it, or let it become law automatically without taking action.