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Easing the "six pack" rules on MN fishing guides

The opening of Minnesota's fishing season is a unique time when people from across the state -- and across the world -- flock to our lakes and streams to drop a line and enjoy the significant outdoor resources our state has to offer. I know that many family traditions have been built on Minnesota fishing trips and the attraction has helped make tourism one of Minnesota's largest and most important industries, providing of jobs and economic benefits for thousands of state residents.

When Minnesotans and out-of-state visitors get out on the water, they often enlist the help of local fishing guides to lead them and make their experiences more memorable. Unfortunately, this year, Minnesota fishing guides face some burdensome and costly Coast Guard rules that are hampering their ability to operate. These security rules were designed to regulate large ocean-going vessels, not local fishing guides who operate small passenger boats holding six passengers or less, commonly known as "six-pack" vessels.   

The Coast Guard regulates federally navigable waterways, which include Mille Lacs Lake, the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, and many other bodies where fishing guides lead fishing trips each year. For national security purposes, the Coast Guard requires vessel operators, long shore workers, and port employees to have Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards. These biometric identification cards are useful security tools on large ocean going vessels and are used to restrict access to secure areas on port bound vessels.

However, I've heard from guides on the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, who have been stopped and asked to leave the water because they didn't have a TWIC card. I don't believe the TWIC card regulation was ever meant to regulate the commercial activity of a fishing guide with a 20-foot boat on one of our rivers or lakes.  

The effort needed to obtain these cards imposes unnecessary costs and time commitments on local fishing guides who pose no threat to national security. Right now, guides in Minnesota are required to take two trips to a TWIC processing facility, once to be fingerprinted and once for card activation. This poses an undue burden on these small boat operators and doesn't provide any added benefits for national security because these boats are generally too small to have sensitive control areas.

In short, small fishing guide businesses don't need to be regulated by the Coast Guard. I am pushing to ease this burden when Congress finalizes the Coast Guard Reauthorization bill later this year by exempting six pack operators from having to get a TWIC card. When the House passed its version of the Coast Guard bill, it included a provision added by Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) that exempts most operators of small passenger boats from the TWIC card requirement. When House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill, I have pressed key Senators involved in the negotiations to adopt the House language.  

I fully understand the importance of requiring TWIC cards for ensuring national security and the safety of marine vessels, however, local fishing guide businesses should be free to operate without this burdensome regulation.

I realize that fishing isn't just a pastime in Minnesota, it's part of our culture. Right now I'm working on a bill that would allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop and regulate a logo for non-toxic or lead free fishing tackle. The lead in fishing tackle has been shown to poison children and kill waterfowl, including our state bird, the Common Loon. Companies would be allowed to place the logo on jigs, lures, and sinkers that are free of toxic substances such as lead. It doesn't ban the bad, just rewards the good.