Law introduced to exempt fishing vessels from EPA discharge rules

Sen. Mark Begich and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced legislation March 6 to exempt fishing vessels from proposed discharge rules that could require stringent monitoring of the rainwater that pools on deck.

“I introduced this legislation with (Rubio) so shippers and other vessel owners that visit multiple ports don’t have to deal with the unreasonable patchwork of EPA rules telling them how to manage ballast water and other discharges,” Begich said in a formal statement. “It sets a national standard for ballast water and other discharges and significantly tightens these rules over time. It gives a permanent exemption for fishermen and other small boat owners who are not considered part of the problem. This bill has broad bipartisan support and the backing of the maritime industry and Alaska fishermen.”

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would apply the Coast Guard’s 2012 ballast water treatment requirements as the general national standard for ballast water discharge. Fishing vessels, however, would be exempt.

According to information from Begich’s office, incidental discharges by commercial vessels less than 79 feet, fishing vessels including seafood processors and recreation vessels, as well as discharges for research, safety or similar purposes, would all be exempt.

Currently, vessel discharge is regulated in a less-streamlined fashion, with various requirements applying to vessels, although commercial and recreational fishing vessels have generally been exempted.

The most recent exemption is due to sunset in December, and more stringent regulations could apply to fishing vessels in the future without legislation that prevents such an effect.

Begich’s bill is still in the early stages — it was read in the U.S. Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Begich heard about the possible impacts of more stringent regulations during a February Senate Oceans Subcommittee hearing about the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. After hearing testimony on the MSA, he also asked attendees about vessel discharge issues.

At the hearing, United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Julianne Curry said tighter regulations would be extremely impactful for commercial, and some recreational, vessels in Alaska and throughout the country.

Parts of the regulations are “so draconian that they’re almost absurd to be able to follow,” Curry said, pointing to the requirement to collect and catalog rainwater landing on deck as an example.

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken agreed.

“I would add that not only is it impossible for the boats to capture the water, that that technology doesn’t exist to carry on these boats to do what the EPA is saying we have to do,” Behnken said. “It’s simply not out there. So it is impossible on a number of levels.”

Fishing processors could also be impacted by changed discharge regulations, Behnken said.

Sitka, which is on an island and feels remote, could be re-designated as non-remote, changing the regulations for shore-based processors, she said.

A particularly onerous change would require processors to discharge fish that is ground up to a much smaller size, with particles no larger than 1 millimeter, and Behnken said that technology isn’t necessarily available.

“It could be really crippling to the processors as well as to the commercial boats that are being asked to comply.”

Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said recreational users could also feel the impacts, particularly in regards to motor requirements. Those are “very concerning” he said.

Currently, the Coast Guard and EPA regulate ballast water under different statutes and regulations, with some room for individual states to also implement regulations.

Under Begich’s proposed legislation, more strict regulations would be implemented for non-exempt vessels. By 2022, a revised rule that is 100 times more stringent than the initial standard would be required, with room for a stricter state standard to be implemented as the uniform standard.

Begich and Rubio are not the first to try and provide an exemption for fishing vessels.

There was significant industry support for the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2013, introduced by a New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, which was incorporated into the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 in February.

LoBiondo’s bill would exempt commercial fishing vessels from Clean Water Act requirements that would otherwise apply to them.  The Act also authorizes 2015 and 2016 appropriations for the Coast Guard.

Updated: 
03/12/2014 - 12:05pm