Senate Panel Questions Who’s a Sportfish Guide

By Larry Persily
Wrangell Sentinel writer

Legislation to restore and increase the state licensing fee on sportfishing guides and operators ran into problems in the Senate Finance Committee last week, as lawmakers questioned why out-of-state boat owners who bring up guests are not required to get a license and pay the fee.

“My district has got to be one of the top guided areas in the state,” said Committee Co-Chair Sen. Bert Stedman, whose district stretches from Sitka to Prince of Wales Island. And while that means a lot of non-residents pay local operators for fishing adventures, “we also have a lot of fat cats” from out of state who come up with their boats and stay all summer long, cycling in friends and company employees for fishing trips, “not unlike a lodge,” the Sitka legislator said.

 Stedman asked the Department of Fish and Game whether such boat owners, who do not charge for their services but may collect from their guests to help pay for fuel and food, are considered sportfishing guides or operators who would be required to buy the annual license.

Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said such boat owners are not considered guides or operators unless they are paid by their guests.

Bethel Sen. Lyman Hoffman did not like that answer. Non-residents who provide sportfishing services — even if they are not paid — should be required to buy the charter license, Hoffman said, adding that he would like to see the legislation amended to cover such nonresident boat operators.

The commissioner said the issue of licensing such boat owners as commercial guides has not come up before and he would need to contact the Alaska Department of Law as to the legality of such a provision. 

State law does not require Alaskans to register and get a license as a sportfishing guide if they take friends, co-workers or other guests out fishing, even if the guests help pay for food and fuel. Treating non-resident boat owners differently than residents could violate the U.S. Constitution, Vincent-Lang told the Senate committee.

The measure passed the House 25-14 a year ago, and faces a challenging schedule to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee, win passage by the full Senate and then resolve differences between the House and Senate versions before the Legislature’s May 18 adjournment deadline.

By restoring the commercial guide and operator license fees, House Bill 79 would raise an estimated $600,000 a year for fisheries data management work. The bill, introduced by the governor, would reinstate the license fee, which expired in 2018, and restore the $100 annual fee for resident guides and $200 for resident operators. The measure would double the annual fee for nonresidents to $200 and $400.

The Southeast Alaska Guides Organization went on the record last year against the higher fee for nonresidents, saying it is not justified and is legally questionable. The Department of Fish and Game reports that in 2019, pre-pandemic, there were about an equal number of resident guides as nonresidents, about 1,200 each.

The intent is that the Department of Fish and Game would use the money to operate its saltwater fishing logbook program, which collects catch and fishing effort data. The logbook program has been ongoing since 1998 but without a designated source of funding.

The state is required to collect the data to meet its obligations under the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty and for the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Without the revenue from license fees, the department has been using state general fund dollars to operate the data collection program. The commissioner told senators the department would use the new revenue to move toward setting up electronic logbooks, providing better access to the data than collecting it on paper forms.


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At a Glance

(updated 5-30-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, May 30.

New cases as of Tuesday: 165

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 298,078

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,468

Case Rate per 100,000 – 22.64

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 58.70

Cases in last 7 days – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,424

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






June 2003

Sitka Community Hospital board of directors has asked SEARHC to stop providing most health care services to non-beneficiary patients. “During the collaborative process SEARHC has said they’re happy to do anything they can do to help,” said SCH Administrator Bill Patten. “This is one of the things they can do – not provide services to non-beneficiaries.”



June 1973

What began 50 years ago in a Methodist parsonage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be celebrated Sunday in Sitka. Les and Caroline Yaw’s four children invite the couple’s many, many friends to attend a golden wedding anniversary reception at the Centennial Building.