Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, introduces his bill, House Bill 105, to the House Fisheries Committee on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. The bill relates to claims against protection and indemnity insurance policies of vessel owners. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, introduces his bill, House Bill 105, to the House Fisheries Committee on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. The bill relates to claims against protection and indemnity insurance policies of vessel owners. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Are you a fisherman who’s been hurt on the job? This bill could help.

Rep. Ortiz attempts to ease the burden on vessel owners’ insurance claims

An Alaska representative is attempting to ease the burden on vessel owners’ insurance claims.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, is sponsoring House Bill 105, which would allow vessel owners to be entitled to receive a benefit if a fisherman files a claim for benefits under the Commercial Fisherman’s Fund. The bill allows an owner to fully recover the protection and indemnity deductible from the fund up to the amount of $5,000, he said.

“The Fisherman’s Fund, this particular bill was heard by the Fisheries committee last year and it passed out of the committee last year so it’s a repeat of that particular bill. … It’s based on the Fisherman’s Fund itself which was created in 1951 and provides the treatment and care of Alaska’s licensed and commercial fisherman who have been injured onshore or offshore in Alaska,” Ortiz said during a Tuesday House Fisheries committee meeting.

The Fishermen’s Fund provides for the treatment and care of Alaska licensed commercial fishermen who have been injured while fishing on shore or off shore in Alaska, according to the Division of Worker’s Compensation website. Benefits from the fund are financed from revenue received from each resident and nonresident commercial fisherman’s license and permit fee. The Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development oversees administration of the program with the assistance of the Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council.

Ortiz said it’s created by fisherman for fisherman from a portion of the license fee and it’s essentially a payer of last resort.

Keeping the fund sustainable for future generations is of paramount importance Ortiz said, and he said the passage of this bill wouldn’t affect the sustainability of the fund.

The current value of the fund is $11.7 million and every year there’s about $1.1 million that goes into it, said Liz Harpold, one of Ortiz’s staff. Last year there were 110 crew member claims paid out, she said.

“The number of crew member claims is quite a bit higher than vessel owner claims, and so by shifting the burden onto the vessel owner’s (protection and indemnity) insurance it will help reduce that burden onto the Fisherman’s Fund itself,” Harpold said.

Insurance for employees on vessels is relatively high compared to shoreside employees, so this fund provides a way for fisherman to insure their employees, said Bob Kehoe, the executive director for the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association.

Kehoe said the legislature’s effort provides a financial incentive to vessel owners to obtain insurance to fully cover their crew members in event of an injury, since currently vessel owners are not required by law to hold this insurance unlike shoreside employers.

“(HB 105) will further promote the goal of insuring all of the medical fees of injured crew members are satisfied,” Kehoe said.

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