Guides say cost of Coast Guard plan is too steep

December 2009 News Sam Cook

Fishing guides on many lakes across northern Minnesota would have to be fingerprinted and spend up to $1,300 on federal exams to help their clients catch walleyes under a new U.S. Coast Guard policy.

Guides and other commercial boat operators are angry and worried about the proposed Coast Guard licensing requirements.

"They're going to put hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of guides out of business," said Tom Neustrom, a longtime fishing guide from Grand Rapids.

Specifically, the Coast Guard has said it would begin enforcing a decades-old law requiring a so-called "six-pack" license for boaters who are paid to carry up to six passengers on federal navigable waters. The licenses are common on the Great Lakes, but until now the Coast Guard has chosen not to enforce the requirement for most small-boat guides on inland lakes.

The license requirement could have far-reaching effects in the tourism industry, affecting not only fishing guides but boat tour operators, canoe-outfitting tow-boat operators and summer camps.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., has intervened, imploring Coast Guard officials to come up with other options, said John Schadl, Oberstar's communications director in Washington, D.C. Those efforts may be working, Schadl said.

"There's a compromise proposal there," Schadl said. "There does need to be some regulation of the guides, but [the six-pack license requirement] is certainly irrelevant if it's going to put people in the guiding community out of business."

Lt. David French, external affairs officer for the Coast Guard's Ninth District in Cleveland, confirmed Tuesday that the agency is looking for ways to ease licensing requirements on guides and other small-boat operators while still ensuring safety on the water. He declined to be more specific about what options the Coast Guard is considering or when a decision might be made.

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