On Sunday, March 18, Bryan Ballew went fishing at the Coronado Islands, where he saw "over 100 boats" fishing. "When I returned to port in the late afternoon," he said, "I did in fact report to the area designated because I want to be in compliance with the law. When I got to Shelter Island, I made an attempt to contact customs by phone, but the telephone number I had was not functional. So I walked to the San Diego Harbor Police Mooring Offices, and the clerk told me she would page the agent on duty. I returned to my boat and waited nearly one hour before the agent arrived."
After a brief inspection of the boat, the agent informed Ballew he had to pay a one-time $25 fee for an annual inspection decal. Ballew paid the fee, though he later found out that his boat is exempt because it is under 30 feet.
Local boaters are worried about the time it will take to clear customs upon returning to port. "I've had guys tell me they had to wait two, three hours for the customs guys to come to the dock," Pete Gray said.
But boaters also worry that, even if multiple agents were stationed on the dock full-time for the sole purpose of clearing boats, at certain times there could be a line of boats stretching from Shelter Island out into the shipping channel and past the harbor mouth, fighting the moving tide to hold their place in queue and disrupting navigation. "There's only about 60 feet of dock there when the police boats are tied up," Gray said. On a Saturday during the summer albacore season, he estimates that 200 to 300 boats depart from San Diego to the Coronado Islands and offshore banks, "and 98 percent of them travel into Mexican waters because that's where the hottest spots are. Think of all of them lining up in the afternoon to report. It would be a four-hour wait or something like that."
Bond says customs is aware of the potential for long waits, yet he and Agent Jones offer no alternatives to the problem. Bond would only reiterate, "Right now we're in the process of going through and finalizing and revising our policy on reporting requirements." The fine for not reporting is $5000 for a first-time violation and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. "Also," Bond said, "the conveyance used in connection with any such violation is subject to seizure and forfeiture," in other words, the boat can be confiscated.
To those who think, This requirement has been on the books for years and never been enforced so I'm not going to start now, Agent Jones says, "It will be enforced, sir."
It's not only San Diego Bay-based boats that must clear customs. The requirement to report also applies to boats out of Mission Bay and Oceanside Harbor. But because those harbors lack a facility for inspection, vessels that have departed from those locations and traveled through Mexican waters must also report to the Harbor Police dock in San Diego Bay before returning to their home ports.
The boating community has had a mixed response to the customs-clearance requirement, which they say is new to them, though Bond contests it has always been there. Gray says, "I know some guys who say, 'I'm going to stop. I don't want a $5000 fine.' But most everybody I know is saying, 'I'm not going to do anything about it until they make me.' I feel the same way. I'm not stopping until they say, 'Hey, you've got to stop.' I think it's a ridiculous law."