Today the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee adopted two of the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s legislative priorities–
1) Repeal of the current statutory requirement for any newly built commercial fishing vessel greater than 50 ft. LOA operating beyond 3 nm to be designed, constructed and maintained according to the standards of a classification society, and to be certified by a classification society.
Because the cost of meeting this requirement is prohibitive, fishermen are forced to keep ageing, less safe vessels on the water longer than they should be. Consequently, current law has had the perverse effect of decreasing not increasing the safety of US commercial fishing fleets across the nation including the US shrimp fleet. In recognition of this unintended consequence, the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee, which advises the US Coast Guard, recommended in 2013 and 2104 that the classification society certification requirements be repealed and replaced with equivalent, less costly standards.
The legislation adopted today would, consistent with those recommendations, replace current law with a set of new requirements for commercial fishing vessels up to 190 ft LOA that are intended to achieve an equivalent standard of safety without the costs associated with a classification society. If enacted, the legislation is expected to reduce the cost of new shrimp vessel construction sufficiently to enable fishermen to replace their older vessels with newer, safer vessels.
Somewhat similar legislation was adopted in the House earlier this year. That legislation would allow for the construction of new commercial fishing vessels between 50ft LOA and 79 ft LOA to be built according to a risk-based fishery-specific Alternative Safety Compliance Program developed by the Coast Guard in consultation with the fishing industry, instead of being designed, built and certified to the standards of a classification society.
It is hoped that the Senate bill will be adopted by the full Senate later this summer. This will be followed by a process for reconciling the differences between the House and Senate bills. SSA will continue its work to achieve the best possible result for US shrimpers throughout this legisaltive process.
2) To make permanent the current legislative moratorium on the requirement for fishing vessels to secure EPA permits under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) for discharges incidental to their normal operation. This moratorium was first enacted in 2008 and extended three times in significant part due to SSA’s work with Congress and as a leader of a nationwide coalition of commercial fishing industry interests.
Absent enactment of this legislation, shrimp fishing vessels and all other US commercial fishing vessels will be subject to the onerous requirements of either the EPA’s Vessel General Permit (VGP) for vessels greater than 79 feet in length, or the similar “small Vessel General Permit” (sVGP) for vessels less than 79 feet in length. EPA estimates that between 118,000 and 138,000 vessels could be subject to the sVGP’s requirements upon expiration of the current moratorium: of which nearly 60,000 are commercial fishing vessels less than 79 feet. The total estimate for all affected commercial fishing vessels of any size exceeds 81,000.
If the current moratorium expires, these regulations would apply requirements to fishing vessels larger than 79 feet for 27 types of vessel discharges including such routine discharges as deckwash, fish hold effluent and greywater.
Compliance with these requirements by commercial fishing vessels -if even possible -would be extremely costly, and the financial penalties for non-compliance are severe. Individual vessel owners would also be vulnerable to costly citizen lawsuits filed by hostile ENGOs.
Both of these legislative achievements are now included in S. 1611, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015. SSA would like to thank the Committee leadership including Chairman Thune (R-SD), Subcommittee Chairman Rubio (R-FL), Committee Ranking Member Nelson (D-FL) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Booker (D-NJ) for introducing and championing this bill.
SSA would further like to give special recognition and thanks to Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and his staff for being the staunch champions of the shrimp industry on the Committee especially with respect to the very challenging effort to secure legislative relief from the current vessel classification requirements.