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Sen. Olson asks Congress to modify Coast Guard rule

The Minnesota Legislature is asking Congress to help fishing guides get licensed under easier rules, according to a resolution authored by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

The so-called "Six-Pack" charter captain's license involves an expensive training program and licensure requirements and is now applied to all inland waters in Minnesota.

It would apply to a fishing guide with one or two parties on Lake Bemidji in an 18-foot outboard.

"The leisure and hospitality industry is an $11.2 billion industry in the state of Minnesota each year," Olson said. "Hundreds of thousands of jobs are tied into the industry, and many of those jobs are reliant on our natural resources, including over 500 fishing and recreation guides throughout the state -- many of whom operate in my district,"

The current federal laws governing the licensing of fishing and boating guides are not applicable to the smaller fishing and recreational vessels that operate on inland lakes in Minnesota, she said.

"My resolution calls upon Congress to address the inadequacies in the current process and enact legislation requiring the U.S. Coast Guard to develop licensing processes appropriate to smaller vessels operating on inland waters," Olson said.

The resolution received a hearing Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee.

The U.S. Coast Guard's qualifications for licensing, called the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels license, commonly referred to the "Six-Pack" license, was not designed for most inland lakes or rivers nor for small vessels such as 16- to 20-foot outboard boats, Olson said.

However, the U.S. Coast Guard has made the decision to require all fishing and boat guides to obtain permits. Difficulty in obtaining these permits has put added strain on small resorts across the state, making it hard for them to legally continue their guide services, Olson said.

"This is an unnecessary burden put on the resort owners in Minnesota," said John Edmound of Explore Minnesota Tourism, who testified on behalf of the bill.

Olson's legislation would call upon Congress to direct the Coast Guard to amend the rules, making the permit and licensing processes more appropriate to smaller vessels operating on inland waters. The current regulations require guides to go through extensive testing and licensure, costing upwards of thousands of dollars to legally obtain license.

"It would cost a great amount of money and hardship on boat owners to obtain these licenses," added Tom Neustrom of the Congress of Minnesota Resorts.

The resolution passed unanimously out of the committee and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee before it makes its way to the Senate floor.