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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Exemptions for Canadian Built Fish Tenders in Maine

A minor amendment to the Jones Act appears to give Maine fishermen some regulatory leeway. The new revision, signed into law on July 11, 2006, provides an exemption for Maine fishermen who want to use a Canadian-built vessel to transport fish and shellfish between locations within the State of Maine.

Prior to this change, fishermen could use a Canadian-built vessel of less than 5 net tons to engage in fishing. However, they could not transport merchandise, or any product, including bait and lobster, port to port.

This revision applies to Maine and Canada only. The rest of the U.S., and vessels built in other countries, are not parts of the deal.

I say deal because you have to wonder how this all came about. Not too long ago a local lobster and bait hauling company (Drisko Lobster) ran afoul of The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. CBP cited Drisko for violating the Jones Act for using a couple of Novi boats to haul bait and lobster back and forth from the islands to the mainland. Senator Olympia Snow (R, ME) got involved on behalf of the operator, who gave up his business as a result of the final adjudication, which came in against him on September 20th of 2004. Regardless of the immediate outcome of the case, it now looks like the law Snow wanted changed got changed -- but only as it applies to Maine fish haulers like Drisko. The change does not exempt new builds, replacement builds, or vessels running salvage, other cargo, or passenger operations.

The revision, as it stands, addresses Maine vessels under 5 net tons that have engaged in the transportation of fish or shellfish before January 1, 2005. The owner of the vessel must be a U.S. citizen and also must be operating the business pursuant to a valid wholesale seafood license that was issued by the State of Maine prior to the January 1, 2005 cut off. Finally, the owner must submit an affidavit to the Coast Guard certifying adherence to the above conditions no later than 180 days from July 11, 2006.

No matter what you think of pork barrel politicking, you have to tip your hat to Senator Snow from Maine. Somehow she managed to bulldoze a tailor-made change into the most hallowed Jones Act, a piece of legislation that was carved into virtual stone over 86 years ago.