U.S. fishermen who want to protect themselves in case their boats are detained for fishing illegally in foreign waters will have to pay more than twice this year what they paid last year for federal "insurance."
Under the law that created the Fisherman's Guarantee Fund in 1971, the National Marine Fisheries Service was supposed to set fees to cover at least 25 percent of the cost of the program. But, in a Federal Register notice last month, William G. Gordon, assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for fisheries, said "administration policy requires that fees cover 100 percent of costs and claims."
On April 23, the fee rose from $16 per gross-vessel-ton to $38 per ton. However, the fees for a parallel State Department program, which allows fishermen to recover the cost of a vessel that is seized and not returned, remain the same.
The fund is supported primarily by tuna and shrimp fishermen. "This decision will have a tremendous negative impact on our industry," said David Burney, general counsel to the U.S. Tuna Foundation. He said the increased fees could put some fishermen out of business.
Burney plans to circulate a legal opinion to Capitol Hill, contending that the Fisheries Service "has strangled the language of the law" to make it seem "like they have the authority to collect enough to offset program costs. That was not the intent of Congress."
Jim Meehan, a program analyst in the Fisheries Service financial services division, said the Solomon Islands seized a single vessel last year for fishing illegally in its waters, draining most of the fund.