With prodding from Alaska's congressional delegation, USCG leadership will "revisit" licensing rules that Western Alaska lodge owners say are unreasonable.
A petition from Bristol Bay-area sport fishing lodges has reached the top desk of the U.S. Coast Guard. At issue in the petition are new rules that Western Alaska lodge owners say will make it nearly impossible for them to hire local guides.
The new Coast Guard rules require fishing guides to get 90 days of sea-time per waterway to get a restricted license (ROUPV) to guide on that particular waterway. The alternative is to go for a full unrestricted license, which requires 360 days on the water.
Lodge owners say those prerequisites are unreasonable in Western Alaska, given the short open-water season and the many major river systems in the region.
Last month, Alaska’s congressional delegation signed a letter asking the Coast Guard to change those rules. In a subcommittee hearing June 15th, Sen. Dan Sullivan brought up the issue with the Commandant of the Coast Guard.
Admiral Paul Zukunft said he is "revisiting" the regulatory process that produced these rules.
"The provision that concerns me the most is the 360 days for a new entrant to be able to enter into this world of work," said Zukunft. "I recognize the seasonality that goes with that as well. So I will take it upon myself and with my staff to work with yours to come up with a common-sense solution to this problem set."
Tikchik Narrows Lodge is one of nine lodges petitioning the Coast Guard. Bud Hodson, who owns the lodge, said the exchange between Sullivan and Zukunft was unexpected but promising.
“We were surprised with that, but it was certainly welcome,” Hodson said. “The Admiral also made a comment that he was familiar with the guiding up here, so it sounds like he has been up here as a client, fishing. So yeah, we’re just waiting to hear back how they treat our petition, and hopefully they accept it and take the rules back to the way they were.”
Hodson and his coalition want the Coast Guard to reinstate the previous regulations, which required 120 days of sea-service time anywhere in order to guide on any inland waters in Western Alaska.
Without the exemption, Hodson says it’s only a matter of time before some area lodges would go out of business.
“[The Coast Guard] gave us a phase-in time period," said Hodson. "When that’s gone, if they don’t fix this, then the guides who do get a restricted license will be limited to one watershed. And that’s gonna be impossible for people to go from different jobs, different lodges, different regions. And I don’t think we’ll be able to find enough guides to fill our guiding rosters.”
Hodson hopes the regulations could be changed by this winter, so that guides that qualify under the old rules could get their licenses by next summer.