The U.S. Coast Guard is promising new licensing options and more exam dates in northern Minnesota to help diffuse a controversy over fish guiding-license rules it began enforcing last year.
On Tuesday the agency announced its plan to offer testing for the Operators of Uninspected Passenger Vessels license in Ely, Chisholm and International Falls as early as this summer, but no dates are available so far. The license, also known as a Six Pack, is required by the Coast Guard for operators who charge a fee, including fishing guides, for boats that carry fewer than six passengers.
The U.S. Coast Guard last year announced plans to add boundary waters lakes to its patrol area which made local resort owners and outfitters on border country lakes nervous. Such a move would require additional licensing and add costs to doing business, they said.
The Six Pack law has been on the books for decades but has only been enforced in Minnesota for the past year. Fishing guides complained, saying the complicated testing is suited mostly for ocean-going mariners, and Rep. Jim Oberstar and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have asked the Coast Guard for less onerous requirements.
Lt. David French of the Coast Guard's regional office in Cleveland said the agency has developed two new licenses that require less rigorous testing. A new "restricted" license would limit a fishing guide to operating on limited specific waters. French said guides who have been doing this sort of work shouldn't have a problem passing the test.
Another license would limit boat operators, such as those running commercial towboats in the BWCAW to a specific stretch of water, such as from one resort to another base camp. Guides applying for restricted or limited licenses still must pass first aid and CPR tests, physical examinations and a drug test. Each license will cost about $600, or half that of a regular Six Pack license.
As of now, details on the new licenses are not on the Coast Guard's website. State Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he has reviewed the new license options and they are still confusing and he’s frustrated more information is not forthcoming from the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard still requires a security clearance card called a Transportation Workers Identification Card, which costs $132.50, from the Transportation Security Administration before a Coast Guard license is issued.