Seward trolls for charterboat compliance

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- The City of Seward is putting charter boat operators on notice that they need the proper licenses and insurance to work in Seward.

After complaints from members of the Seward Charterboat Association, city manager Scott Janke notified about 650 charter operators across the state, reminding them to acquire a Seward business license if they work out of Seward.

The letter also reminds charterboat owners that they must be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and carry up to $1 million in insurance, a measure that also protects the city from liability.

The Seward Charterboat Association claims that numerous charterboats, many from out of town, have used the city's small boat harbor for years without paying city sales taxes. Just how many there are, no one knows for sure.

''There are a lot,'' said Andy Mezirow, the association's vice president and owner of Crackerjack Charters. ''A lot of boats don't even know they need a business license.''

''They simply come over for 20 days, make $20,000 and leave,'' Mezirow said in a letter to members of the Seward Ports and Commerce Advisory Board last week.

But harbormaster Jim Beckham said it's probably not as many as some think.

''I'd say most folks are complying,'' he said. ''There's a feeling from Seward charter boat operators that there's a lot out there that aren't complying with any federal, state and local regulations at all. I've got a feeling the problem isn't that large, but we're addressing it with the letter.''

As the popularity of the Silver Salmon Derby has swelled, so has the number of licensed charter boats heading to Seward in July and August.

Between 1996 and 1997, licensed vessels from out of town leapt from 39 to 65, according to the city clerk's office. Last summer, Seward licensed 70 out-of-town charter boats.

With that increase has come more traffic and more potential for accidents. It also means there are more noncompliant operators, Mezirow said.

City officials are also uncertain how many unlicensed boats are operating, and therefore, how much of the city's 3 percent sales tax is going unpaid.

The city has no regular enforcement mechanism to track registration during the busy summer season, Beckham said.

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