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Charter fishermen caught in legal net

An arcane maritime law has charterboat captains in northern Ohio talking — and turning them to Washington to resolve a bureaucratic and maritime mess.

The Coastwise Trade Act, written in 1920, written to give the country’s maritime industry national security and economic protection. The law says that if commercial boats of a certain size want to operate in the United States, they must be built in the United States — and the owners have to prove that they comply.

A report by The Plain Dealer tells the story of Ohio fisherman Santos Livas, who was returning from a charter trip on Lake Erie last month when the Coast Guard pulled alongside his boat, Bad Influence, and demanded to see his licenses and other papers.

Livas told The Plain Dealer he complied, despite his displeasure at being stopped in three-foot waves, with the Coast Guard boat “smacking the side.”

But it was a single paper that he could not produce that drew a threat of a $40,000 fine, and up to $500,000 if stopped again, legal fees, and lost charter revenue.

“The guy came up and said I was in violation and my boat would not be able to leave the dock” once it moored, Livas said. “Right in front of my customers, he told me I was running illegal charters, bootleg charters.”

Click here for the full report.