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Federal law would protect Alaska's halibut fishermen

Aaron Jansen illustration

Alaska's congressional delegation has introduced in Congress the Maritime Lien Reform Act of 2011, to protect fishermen who hold Alaska commercial fishing permits.

The delegation announced the legislation on March 18, saying the act would prohibit maritime liens from being imposed on permits and protect the right of fishermen to continue to earn a livelihood by engaging in commercial fishing.

Similar legislation was introduced in 2006 and 2008, but neither bill became law.

The legislation would benefit over 13,000 individuals who hold Alaska commercial entry permits, about 75 percent of whom are Alaska residents.

Alaska law already prohibits liens on Alaska limited entry permits, but a court decision threw that into doubt by determining that a fishing license was subject to a maritime lien under Federal Admiralty Law. The decision has become the rationale for attempts to take Alaskan fishing permits to federal bankruptcy court and the legislation is the best way to protect these permits and fishermen, said Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Mark Begich, D- Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska..

The Maritime Lien Reform Act would "keep fishermen on the water employed with the one asset in which they can keep earning a living and address their creditors," Murkowski said.

"This bill will prevent fishermen from having a lien slapped on their ability to fish, and allow them to work through problems they may have," Begish said added. "It will help keep permits in local communities and keep fishermen working."

"This bill protects fishermen's ability to make a profit and pay off their debts without taking away their prime source of income," Young said. "Debts cannot be paid off if there are no earnings, so this legislation is a win-win for fishermen, creditors, and Alaska."

This story is posted with permission from Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes six weekly community newspapers, a statewide shopper, a statewide magazine and slate of special publications that supplement its products year-round.