Who is a “family fisherman”? One of a series

15 Dec Who is a “family fisherman”? One of a series

The Bankruptcy Code likes “family fishermen.”  It’s not easy to make a living as a fishermen.  In fact, statistics demonstrate that family fishermen have had a difficult time eking out a living.  This is particularly important in coastal states such as Maine, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Florida and Alaska.

You may have heard that “family farmers” are entitled to special treatment under the Bankruptcy Code.  The same is true for “family fishermen”.

The Bankruptcy Code tells us who is a “family fisherman” in its own convoluted sort of way.  A “family fisherman” is a person, a married couple, or a corporation involving one family which makes a living in a “commercial fishing operation”.  But not too much of a living.  No more than $1.5 million gross income per year.  Most of the family debt except for one dwelling has to arise from the “commercial fishing operation.”  A “family fisherman” must have stable income so as to be able to make regular payments toward debt.

A “commercial fishing operation” means a business engaged in catching or growing things people eat which live in water.  And a “commercial fishing vessel” means a vessel used in a “commercial fishing operation.”

“Family fisherman” can get special treatment in bankruptcy .  They can file chapter 12. Chapter 12 is a special part of the Bankruptcy Code designed to help “family fishermen” and “family farmers” deal with their debt.  Chapter 12 can help in many ways.  But one of the most important ways it can help is to allow a debtor modify a mortgage on residential real estate.  Bankruptcy judges have done this for years with no apparent harm to the economy.

Bankruptcy Courts can use what they have learned in Chapter 12 to help others in Chapter 13  with mortgage modifications of loans which are underwater.  The Senate said no last time they had a chance.  Maybe they will try again now that the Obama mortgage plan is failing so miserably.

More about chapter 12 will follow in future articles.  Lakelaw represents family farmers in chapter 12 cases in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.

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Jay S. Fleischman is a bankruptcy lawyer with offices in Los Angeles and New York. He can often be found on Google+ and Twitter, where he shares information about consumer protection issues and personal finance.
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