Relief Sought on Incidental Discharges

US Coast Guard legislation that passed the US Senate Nov. 14, would relieve commercial fishing vessel owners and operators from federal and state regulations for ballast water and other incidental discharges.

The Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, having passed the Senate by a vote of 94-6, is heading back to the House for consideration after the Thanksgiving break, then on to President Trump for his signature, according to staff of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

The ballast water legislation is contained in a provision of the bill known as the Vessel Incident Discharge Act. Sullivan is a co-author of the Coast Guard bill, which is co-sponsored by Senators John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The provision provides a permanent exemption on incidental vessel discharge for all commercial fishing vessels and commercial vessels under 79 feet in length. Without this exemption, small vessel operators and fishermen would be forced to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits for even the most basic activity, including vessel deck runoff, hosing out their fish holds, and other minor discharges. Sullivan said that the language also provides a comprehensive fix to a broken regulatory framework by establishing a single, nationally uniform standard for the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges.

The Senate vote drew quick praise from Seafood Harvesters of America and criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Chris Brown, president of Seafood Harvesters of America, said the bill reflected “strong environmental protections for the nation’s waters, along with the reduction on nonsensical regulatory burdens on the commercial fishing industry.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, took issue with what he called “a significant blow to the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect rivers, estuaries and lakes from harmful invasive species.

“The Coast Guard has never upheld its obligation to fight the spread of aquatic species in ballast water,” Hartl said. “This new law makes matters worse by allowing them to shirk that responsibility for years or decades to come.”