By John Sackton
Editor and Publisher, SeafoodNews
November 15, 2018

Kodiak harbor                               Credit:

The Senate has passed a bi-partisan Coast Guard Reauthorization bill 94-6 that includes many regulatory updates that were critical to US fishing interests. Charter and commercial fishing businesses in Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii have been working on this issue for several years.

The bill permanently removes all vessels under 79 feet from being subject to EPA incidental discharge regulations regarding ballast water and deck washing.  It also removes all fishing vessels, fish processing vessels, or tenders of any length from the EPA discharge requirements.  The EPA rules applying to ballast water and deck water discharge were put in place in 2008, but fishing vessels were given a temporary exemption.

That exemption expired at the end of this year, and vessel owners were extremely concerned that without a permanent fix, such simple activities as washing down a deck after gutting fish could expose a captain to an EPA fine for unauthorized discharge.

The bill also increases the size of new vessels that must be maintained to class standards, and provides for regional and fishery specific alternative safety compliance programs.

West Coast senators led the effort by supporting exemptions until a permanent fix could be found. The West Coast Seafood Processors Association, Oregon Trawl Commission, Western Fishboat Owners Association, Fishermen’s Marketing Association, California Fisheries and Seafood Institute and many more have been concerned that, without an exemption, complying with vessel incidental discharge permit regulations would create costly and unreasonable expectations for fishing vessels.

“We are writing to urge our United States Senators to act quickly on legislation to create a permanent exemption from the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP), and from [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] (NPDES) permits for all commercial fishing and charter fishing vessels regardless of vessel size,” West Coast and Hawaii industry supporters wrote to senators in May. “Taking this important action would prevent yet another layer of unwarranted and unnecessary federal permitting and regulation on our already overburdened coastal industries and communities.”

“The passage of this bill is a breakthrough for the commercial fishing industry and it’s been a long time coming,” said Chris Brown, President of the Seafood Harvesters of America. “We are grateful to the numerous Senators who worked hard to permanently exempt fishing vessels from onerous regulations that would require us to monitor and log any water running off boat decks. We now have regulatory certainty for our businesses instead of operating under stopgap exemptions to these regulations. We applaud the Senate for passing this bill that also addresses our concerns with vessel classification and the development of the alternative safety compliance program.

The bill also provides for maintenance of strong environmental protections for US waters.  The bill effectively safeguards our waters from invasive species and provides the Great Lakes states flexibility with regards to the discharge of ballast water standards.