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PACIFIC SHRIMP CO. v. UNITED STATES

May 2, 1974

PACIFIC SHRIMP COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, and Admiral Chester R. Bender, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., et al., Defendants


Beeks, Senior District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BEEKS

This case involves the future of the M/V PACIFIC SHRIMPER (Shrimper), a CI MAV 1 type of vessel (commonly referred to as a Knot ship) of 3847.12 gross tons, a registered length of 323.95 feet, and propelled by a diesel engine of 1700 horsepower. The vessel was formerly known as the REEF KNOT and was employed by Alaska Steamship Company as a regularly scheduled common carrier in the Alaska trade. Plaintiff purchased Shrimper in May, 1973 as a surplus vessel from the United States Maritime Administration for use as a processing vessel in the shrimp and crab fishery at Balboa Bay, located on the Alaska peninsula in an area adjacent to the Shumagin Islands. It is the intention of plaintiff to anchor the vessel at Balboa Bay, at which point vessels catching shrimp/crab would deliver their catches for processing into a finished marketable product, canned or frozen. The use of Shrimper would be the same as a processing plant ashore, except that the vessel would have mobility. Plaintiff, believing from past conduct of the Coast Guard with respect to the documentation and non-inspection of vessels similarly used, that it would receive like treatment, expended in excess of one million dollars in the conversion of Shrimper for use as a non-inspected processing vessel.

 On September 5, 1973 the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection (O.C.M.I.), 17th District, U.S. Coast Guard, at Juneau, Alaska, issued a permanent Certificate of Registry to plaintiff, the certificate reciting that her service was to be that of a "fish processor."

 On September 17, 1973 the O.C.M.I., 13th District, U.S. Coast Guard, Seattle, Washington, informed plaintiff it had come to Coast Guard's attention that Shrimper was being reactivated, and that the vessel would be subject to the inspection and manning laws. *fn1"

 Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Commander, 13th Coast Guard District, and to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Washington, D.C., but to no avail. On January 7, 1974, the Commanding Officer, 17th Coast Guard District, by letter to plaintiff, requested the return of the Certificate of Registry stating that it had been issued in error.

 This action was thereafter instituted for declaratory and injunctive relief. The court has jurisdiction *fn2" and the case is ripe for declaratory judgment. *fn3"

 The statutory law with respect to registering had its origin in the Act of December 31, 1792, 1 Stat. 287, and with respect to enrollment and licensing in the Act of February 18, 1793, 1 Stat. 305, both during the tenure of our first President. Surprisingly, few changes have been made in the basic law since that date, except that in 1828 *fn5" Congress amended the Act of February 18, 1793 to provide that vessels licensed for the mackerel fishery would be permitted to engage in the coasting trade and other fisheries. *fn6" The law is substantially the same today. The form of license specified by law *fn7" recognizes only the coasting trade, whale fishery, mackerel fishery and cod fishery. The salmon, tuna, herring, halibut, crab, and shrimp fisheries are unknown to the documentation statutes, although a vessel licensed for the mackerel fishery may lawfully engage in catching cod or fish of any other description, including shellfish. *fn8"

 From 1884 until July 16, 1946 the documentation and inspection of vessels was performed by the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, an agency of the Department of Commerce. Thereafter until February 24, 1967, the documentation was performed by the U.S. Customs, an agency of the Treasury Department. On the last mentioned date this function was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, where it currently remains.

 Generally, an enrollment and license is preferred to a Certificate of Registry because vessels under registry are subject to compulsory state pilotage acts, *fn9" and in some cases tonnage duties, *fn10" while vessels under enrollment and license are not. Although a vessel may be enrolled and licensed for the catching of any type of fish I doubt that our archaic laws make any provision for the licensing of a vessel to engage in the incidental duties of the fisheries common to Alaska, other than the actual catching of fish. As previously indicated, 46 U.S.C. § 263 authorizes a license for carrying on the mackerel fishery, thus permitting the taking of fish of every description, including shellfish, and 46 U.S.C. § 325 provides that vessels licensed for the mackerel fishery will not violate their license by catching cod or fish of any other description whatever. Except as provided in 46 U.S.C. § 404a, however, the authorization appears limited to the act of capture.

 Prior to Alaska statehood *fn11" the salmon fishery was Alaska's principal seafood industry, the catching and processing of crab and shrimp being rather minor. Most salmon were caught in traps attached to the shore and substantially all of the processing of all species of seafood was performed in shore installations. Such operations involved diesel propelled vessels employed as cannery tenders, principally in the brailing of fish traps and in the transportation of fish and cannery supplies. Substantially all were under 300 gross tons.

 In the years immediately following termination of World War II, numerous government owned vessels of diesel propulsion, measuring from 500 to 1500 gross tons, were declared surplus. A number were purchased by commercial packers and employed in Alaska fisheries in varying non-catching capacities.

 After statehood the various fisheries underwent drastic change. Fish traps were abolished. The growth of alien fishing fleets depleted the runs of salmon. The number of shoreside processing installations was substantially reduced. The Alaska king crab industry was born and flourished. The Alaska shrimp industry is now expanding. The herring fishery is reviving. Waterborne processing is expanding, involving vessels of greater capacity.

 Prior to September 5, 1973, *fn12" vessels engaged in Alaska fisheries, whether catching vessels or vessels performing services in connection with fisheries other than catching, were either enrolled and ...


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