The House on Wednesday, Aug. 1 unanimously passed H.R. 5797, the Mille Lacs Lake Freedom to Fish Act of 2012.
Authored by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (MN), the legislation would remove burdensome, administrative overreach by the U.S. Coast Guard and restore the state's authority to permit and inspect the vessels on Lake Mille Lacs.
In March of 2010, the Coast Guard began requiring fishing guides on Lake Mille Lacs to acquire a federal "six-pack" boating license to continue to do their jobs. This certification is difficult to obtain and can cost individual fishing guides up to $2,000 in fees, training, and travel costs. In fact, the two closest testing locations are located in Toledo, OH and St. Louis, MO. Citing historical interstate commerce, this policy change was based on a 1981 Army Corps of Engineers determination that the lake had been used in the 1800s for logging. Ironically, this decision was made despite the fact that the Rum River, which formerly connected the lake to the Mississippi River, had been dammed for decades.
"With all the gridlock in Washington, we must not lose sight of the common sense, bipartisan reforms that can actually get done. This new Coast Guard regulation, being funded at taxpayer expense, will take a toll on the Mille Lacs Lake resort-based economy and will make fishing more expensive. I appreciate all the Coast Guard does, but the DNR already patrols Mille Lacs Lake," said Rep. Cravaack. "Ultimately, Mille Lacs Lake belongs to Minnesotans and should not be controlled by federal government bureaucrats. My legislation will stop fishing guides from being forced to spend over $2000 to obtain a license they don't need," he added.
The Mille Lacs Lake Freedom to Fish Act was previously passed out of House committee with the support of Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Ranking Member Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV). The legislation was also introduced in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken.
"The bottom line is the cost the federal government is imposing on obtaining the six-pack certification for captains. Less control from the federal government on Mille Lacs Lake is a good thing. By federalizing the licensing process, jobs are being taken away. Although I have a Masters License, at my age I'm doubtful I could obtain the licensing due to the cost of the coursework," said George Nitti, Owner of Nitti's Hunters Point Resort.
H.R. 5797 has been fully vetted by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The legislation is also supported by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, Minnesota Anglers for Habitat, National Association of Charterboat Operators, Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, and fishing guides and resort owners.
Rep. Cravaack serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- where he is vice chair of the Aviation Subcommittee -- the Homeland Security Committee, and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The 8th Congressional District covers 18 counties in Northeast Minnesota.