Lawmakers in Juneau Hear about Derelict Vessels in Alaska

Feb 18, 2013

Credit Mike Mason

The State of Alaska has a problem with derelict vessels and lawmakers in Juneau are looking at how to address the situation. Last Thursday the Fisheries Committee in the Alaska House of Representatives heard information about the growing number of derelict fishing and other vessels in Alaska.

Wyn Menefee is the Chief of Operations for the Division of Mining, Land and Water within the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. He confirms that derelict vessels are found on beaches and shorelines across the state as well as sunk in the near-shore environment. During last week's meeting he said,

"We have a lot of stuff that ends up on shorelands or tidelands that is either abandoned or in poor order."

Meneffee noted that any vessel that is anchored in place for over 14-days in state controlled waters needs a special permit but he admits that enforcement authority is lacking in state law. He observed that,

"We don't actually have a very effective enforcement authority.  So right now when we find someone that does go beyond that 14-day limit we have to try and get them under an authorization but that can be quite a challenge to do."

Often it's cheaper and more economical for owners to scuttle or abandon a derelict vessel and even if those vessels are sunk at sea they often wash up on beaches. Currently DNR has a backlog of 94 vessels on state land but those are just the vessels formally identified. Menefee confirms that does not count the large number of vessels that have not yet been identified because they are below the water line or located in unpopulated areas. If a vessel needs to be removed or cleaned up it can be very expensive and Menefee divulged that the recent effort to remove two vessels that sank in Jackolof Bay in Lower Cook Inlet cost about $250-thousand dollars. Back in October the Alaska Association of Harbor masters and Port Administrators passed a resolution requesting stronger municipal powers in regards to abandoned and derelict vessels and that request is being supported by the Alaska Department of Transportation, which was represented at last week's meeting by Michael Lukshin. He's the State Ports and Harbors Engineer. He stressed that the issue of derelict vessels in Alaska is not going away anytime soon. He said,

"There are many older less efficient boats that are still floating. Many of these boats were removed from fishing due to rationalization programs and this problem will not go away."

The House Fisheries Committee didn't take up a specific piece of legislation during their meeting last week but it's anticipated there might be legislation forthcoming to make the changes supported by the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators.     In his weekly Legislative update Fisheries Committee Chairman Paul Seaton from Homer noted that the derelict vessel issue is growing and is one that needs to be addressed to save the state money and protect people and the environment.