In an effort to protect fishing guides and charter captains against the financial impacts of excessive government regulations, Senators Norm Coleman and Susan Collins today introduced the Small Marine Business and Fishing Guide Relief Act. The legislation will exempt fishing guides, charter captains, and other small boat operators from needing an expensive Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) if they are not required to submit a vessel security plan to the Coast Guard. These mariners will still be required to have a Coast Guard license. A TWIC costs $132.50 for new applicants and is valid for five years. Additionally, the legislation calls for a report to examine the feasibility of verifying the small boat operators who have already purchased a TWIC and who will not need a card if this legislation is signed into law. Once the report is complete, refunds or credits towards license renewals could be issued by Congress or the TSA. Similar legislation has also passed in the House as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act.

“The tourism and fishing industries are crucial to Maine’s economy,” said Sen. Collins. “Many small businesses are already struggling during these lean economic times because of high fuel prices. In addition, higher energy prices have made it difficult for many tourists to afford charter tours of Maine’s coastal areas this summer, causing more hardship on the industry. I have heard from many individuals that they simply cannot afford an additional $132 identification card for each of their employees.”

“While the TWIC program is an important tool to ensure the safety of our nation’s ports, it places an unnecessary financial burden on Minnesota’s fishing guides and small boat operators,” said Coleman. “This an issue that was brought to my attention last summer when fishing guides from Rainy River and Lake of the Woods told me that it posed an additional burden on their ability to maintain their bottom line. These guides already go through a substantial background check and pay a minimum of $140 for their Coast Guard licenses. Given these factors, it doesn’t make sense to ask them to pay an additional fee – especially with the recent downturn in the economy and the rising cost of gas.”

Under current law, any individual with a Coast Guard-issued license or document will be required to also purchase a TWIC card by April 2009. The Department of Homeland Security indicated legislation would be needed to address this issue.

“While the TWIC program will play a critical role in our nation’s maritime security by limiting access to secure areas of ports and large vessels, requiring charter boat captains who do not need unescorted access to these areas to obtain a TWIC is a costly and unnecessary government regulation,” said Sen. Collins.

“We need to make sure our local fishing guides and other small marine operators are not being subjected to excessive government regulation and this legislation will provide that relief,” added Coleman. “Common sense tells us that a fishing dock on Lake of the Woods, for example, is vastly different from a major commercial port receiving cargo containers. And recognizing that some folks who already purchased a TWIC may not need it once this legislation passes, the bill also asks the Department of Homeland Security to look at the feasibility of locating these mariners so a refund or credit could be provided down the road.”

The TWIC program was established by Congress through the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and is administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Coast Guard. TWICs are tamper-resistant biometric credentials for workers who require unescorted access to secure areas of ports, vessels, outer continental shelf facilities and all credentialed merchant mariners. It is anticipated that more than 750,000 workers including longshoremen, truckers, port employees and others will be required to obtain a TWIC. To obtain a TWIC, an individual must provide biographic and biometric information such as fingerprints, sit for a digital photograph, and successfully pass a security threat assessment conducted by TSA.