Maritime Lien Reform Act Introduced

Alaska’s congressional delegation is taking another try at legislation to protect fishermen holding Alaska commercial fishing permits from getting slapped with liens on those permits, thereby endangering their economic livelihood.

The measure was introduced into the Senate Commerce Committee as S608 by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska introduced the legislation as HR1210 into the House subcommittee on transportation and infrastructure.

The good news, said Bob King, a fisheries aide to Begich, is that in the Senate it will get referred to the oceans subcommittee, which Begich chairs.

Similar legislation was introduced in Congress in 2006 and 2008, but failed to pass.

The current measure would benefit some `3,000 individuals who hold Alaska commercial entry permits, about 75 percent of them Alaska residents. There are permit holders in all 50 states.

“I don’t think anybody is opposed to it,” King said. “The question is whether it is going to be taken up.”

There is hope that this and other relatively small, non-controversial fisheries issues, with no major fiscal impact, may be wrapped into a single piece of legislation before this session ends, he said.

In the past the legislation failed because it was linked with some more contentious issues, he said.

Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission has fought for years to protect limited entry permits as a use privilege, rather than a piece of property. The CFEC also is working to protect the status of these permits as a use privilege, he said.

Murkowski, Begich and Young issued a joint statement on the measure on March 18, noting that Alaska state law already prohibits liens on Alaska limited entry permits, but that a court decision threw that into doubt by determining that a fishing license was subject to a maritime lien under Federal Admiralty Law. That decision, they said, has become the rationale for attempts to take Alaska fishing permits in federal bankruptcy court. The federal measure is the best way to protect these permits and the fish harvesters, they said.