Coast Guard cracking downST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As a canoe outfitter at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Blayne Hall has seen his business ravaged by windstorms and challenged by wilderness lawsuits and regulations.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As a canoe outfitter at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Blayne Hall has seen his business ravaged by windstorms and challenged by wilderness lawsuits and regulations.
His latest nemesis: the long arm of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Hundreds of Minnesota fishing guides, outfitters and tour operators are facing expensive safety regulations enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard that include, among other things, random drug testing.
The Coast Guard has notified Minnesota commercial outfitters and guides that unless they have a federal “Six Pack” license, they no longer can operate their small boats on federally navigable waters, such as the Mississippi River, the St. Croix River or many lakes in northern Minnesota.
It includes some waters in the BWCAW, where small operators such as Hall use motorboats to shuttle canoeists and where local guides show anglers where to catch fish.
The Six Pack license requires commercial boat operators to pass a lengthy test on navigation and boat safety; have CPR certification; pass a physical and health examination; prove they have three to 12 months of on-water boating experience; submit three personal references; and pass a drug test. They also must be 18 years or older.
Boat operators and guides also are required to have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, which requires a background check called a federal “security threat assessment” to ensure operators aren’t a threat to secure harbors. To Hall, the requirements sound not just absurd, but like a serious blow to his business.
“The Ely community is absolutely petrified by this,” said Hall, owner of Hall and Williams Outfitters on Moose Lake and president of the Ely Area Tourism Board.
“I have high school kids who drive towboats up and down the lake all summer. Are they going to make them pee in a bottle?”
The licenses and drug and physical testing cost about $600, but most applicants have to take a special course costing $700 to $1,000 to prepare for the Six Pack test.
Dick “Griz” Grzywinski, of St. Paul, a well-known fishing guide, was ordered off local rivers last summer by the U.S. Coast Guard and told to get a Six Pack license.
He signed up for the class this fall and studied a 350-page textbook but failed the test in November.
“I can’t pass it. My living is shot,” Grzywinski said Tuesday. “The test asks you questions like, ‘How many green lights are there on a mine sweeper?’ I guess there are three.”
A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said the Six Pack license requirement, which applies to commercial boat operators with six or fewer passengers, has been on the books for 40 years but hasn’t been widely enforced until now.
The TWIC requirement became law last spring.
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the Coast Guard. His spokesman John Schadl said the congressman’s staff has met with Coast Guard officials to devise a less stringent licensing requirement for small-boat operators.
Schadl said the new license should be inexpensive and not require guides and boat operators to travel a long distance to get it.
“I believe the current proposal is being reviewed in the D.C. (Coast Guard) headquarters,” Schadl said. “They (the Coast Guard) have the ability to make these rules practical and workable.
“We’re hoping something will be out soon. Certainly, we want this resolved by spring for the fishing season,” he said.
Coast Guard officials say the licensing requirement is to protect the public.
“The Coast Guard’s primary goal is to ensure the safety and security of people using U.S. navigable waters,” Lt. Dave French said in an e-mail. He is a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 9th district, based in Cleveland, which oversees northern Minnesota.
French acknowledged that the Coast Guard is looking at less onerous licensing options for fishing guides and boat operators. “We intend to work as quickly as possible on this,” he said.
The rules are being enforced on the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers, as well as the lakes connected to the Mississippi, such as Winnibigoshish. Other waters that are considered federally navigable include Lake of the Woods, Upper Red Lake, Lake Vermilion, Gull Lake, the Whitefish Chain and Lake Mille Lacs.
Tom Neustrom, a fishing guide based in Grand Rapids, said he fears the Coast Guard will crack down on fishing guides this spring, giving little time for anyone to get a license.