US fishing vessels now have permanent waiver from incidental discharge rule

When U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act into law last week, it finally – and permanently – relieved the fishing industry from Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding incidental discharge on their boats.

The regulation required vessel operators to get EPA permits to perform routine actions, such as using pumped ocean water to clean off the deck after harvesting. It stemmed from a 2005 federal court ruling, and the Southern Shrimp Alliance said the system was a hindrance to more than 80,000 commercial fishing boats.

“This permit requirement should never have existed,” said John Williams, SSA’s executive director. “It was lawsuit driven by environmental groups in a California court a long time ago. SSA has been working ever since with Congress and other fishing groups across the nation to put a temporary stop to it. I have to say, after working to prevent this disaster for more than a decade, it feels pretty good to finally put this one to bed, permanently.”

Since the initial ruling 13 years ago, the seafood industry received temporary waivers from the regulation five times. The first came in 2008 and the most recent waiver occurred last year.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) worked to get Vessel Incident Discharge Act, a bill he co-sponsored, incorporated into the Coast Guard legislation.

“Plain and simple, this issue – which dates back over a decade – has created nothing but uncertainty for Alaska’s fishermen, diverting attention and resources from running their businesses to complying with needless federal regulations,” Sullivan said last month. “VIDA will provide Alaska’s fishermen with a long sought peace of mind from the threat of federal regulation. While this issue has taken over a decade to resolve – with a series of eleventh hour, temporary extensions over the years – I’m pleased to see Congress provide Alaska’s fishermen with a permanent exemption from these over-burdensome regulations.”

Without the exemption, fishing vessel crews would have to record any water running off their decks. That would include monitoring ocean water they pumped into the ship to clean decks after hauling in their harvests.

"The reauthorization is a common-sense step by Congress that provides necessary relief to fishermen without compromising the environment or water quality," said Greg DiDomenico, executive director of the Garden State Seafood Association. "Now commercial fishermen can focus on core environmental issues without having to deal with unnecessary, court-imposed restrictions."


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