UNPRECEDENTED FISHING INDUSTRY SUPPORT FOR SENATE VESSEL DISCHARGE PERMIT EXEMPTION BILL

Working in coalition with representatives of the Garden State Seafood Association, the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, and the National Association of Charterboat Operators, the Southern Shrimp Alliance has played a leading role in generating a powerful letter of support to the United States Senate for S.2904 – the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act”.  https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/cialFishingandCharterFishingLetterofSupportApril12014.pdf

The bill will 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. https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/S.-2094-VIDA-bill-2014.pdf

The letter, urging quick Senate action on the bill, was signed by more than 100 national, regional and State commercial fishing and charterboat organizations and vessels nationwide.  It is addressed to Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which has jurisdiction over the legislation.  This level of industry support is unprecedented.

According to SSA Executive Director John Williams:

“Never has SSA worked on a policy issue that has received such broad support from groups whose members earn their living on board fishing vessels from Maine to Hawaii and throughout the Gulf and South Atlantic region.  That is because this legislation is absolutely crucial to some of the most basic logistics of their vessel operations and to the financial viability of their fishing businesses.  We are very proud to work with our colleagues on all 3 coasts to send such a strong message to the Senate on the need for this legislation to be enacted before the current permit moratorium expires.”

The Southern Shrimp Alliance has been deeply engaged in protecting shrimp vessel owners throughout the Gulf and South Atlantic region from the onerous and expensive requirements of an EPA permit under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) ever since a 2005 federal court decision on an ENGOs lawsuit imposed those requirements on fishing vessels.

Working closely with groups across the nation, SSA has played a leading role in securing a series of bills beginning in 2008 that have prevented the EPA from implementing the court decision.  However, the current legislative moratorium on imposing these requirements on commercial fishing vessels will expire on December 18, 2014.  The VIDA bill would make this exemption permanent.

SSA is also now working with fishery groups across the nation to secure cosponsors of the VIDA bill.  SSA is proud to report that as a result of these ongoing efforts, 28 Senators are now sponsors of this important legislation.  This includes many Senators from the 8 “shrimp states”– including Senators Rubio (R-FL), Chambliss (R-GA), Cochran (R-MS), Graham (R-SC), Landrieu (D-LA),  Nelson (D-FL), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Vitter (R-LA) and Wicker (R-MS).  SSA deeply appreciates the support from these Senators and will continuing its efforts until every ‘shrimp state’ Senator becomes a cosponsor.
Background

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.

The VGP regulations have been in place for commercial non-fishing vessels larger than 79 feet since 2009.  Once the moratorium expires, these regulations would apply to fishing vessels larger than 79 feet requirements for 27 types of vessel discharges that include such routine discharges as deckwash, fish hold effluent and greywater.  In addition, the EPA recently finalized a separate set of regulations for sVGPs in anticipation of the expiration of the moratorium.  Some elements of these regulations are incomprehensible when considered in the context of the wide range of sizes, types and operations of US fishing vessels. (EPA VGP and sVGP Regulations  http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vgpermit.cfm )
Compliance with these requirements by fishing vessels –if even possible –would be extremely costly and financial penalties for non-compliance are severe.  Individual vessel owners would also be vulnerable to citizen lawsuits filed by hostile ENGOs.

The present situation grew out of a 2005 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed a 2005 District Court decision that the EPA had exceeded its regulatory authority 32 years earlier when it determined the requirements of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) under the Clean Water Act should not apply to vessels.

 

Instead, during those 32 years, the regulation and enforcement of pollutant discharges (including invasive species) from vessels was administered by the US Coast Guard pursuant to a series of federal statutes including the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships in 1980, the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 and the National Invasive Species Act of 1996, among others.

 

Since the 2005 Court ruling, however, both the Coast Guard and the EPA are now required to administer separate and inconsistent sets of regulations which include a requirement for the EPA to issue permits for tens of thousands of commercial vessels –something that far exceeds the agency’s capacity and budget.

 

The Court’s decision to apply the NPDES program to vessels also opened the door for each of the States to independently establish a range of inconsistent vessel discharge standards and requirements for vessels transiting their waters.  At least twenty-five States now have imposed such regulations.  Implementation of this conflicting and confusing regime has become an administrative nightmare for the federal agencies involved, and presents owners of the more than 100,000 commercial vessels that operate in US waters with and impossible compliance and liability regime.

 

SSA worked extensively along with other fishing and maritime groups to secure the original legislative moratorium in 2008, and its extensions in 2010 and 2012.   In addition to exempting fishing vessels from the EPA requirements, the 2008 legislation also mandated a to evaluate what if any threat discharges incidental to the normal operation of fishing vessels present to water quality.  SSA worked with the shrimp industry and the EPA and Coast Guard to secure the voluntary participation of six Gulf shrimp vessels in this study.   In their report to Congress, EPA effectively concluded that this threat was minimal under normal open water operating conditions

 

Specifically, the report concluded:  “EPA determined that the incidental discharges from study vessels to a relatively large water body are not likely to solely cause an exceedance of any NRWQC.” (NRWQA = National Recommended Water Quality Criteria under the Clean Water Act).   (EPA report: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/reportcongress.cfm)

 

SSA is very grateful to the owners of those shrimp vessels for their willingness to work with Federal officials to document this reality.  This has made a substantial contribution to our success in the legislative process to date.

 

Finally, it should be noted that in 2008, Congress also passed the Clean Boating Act (PL 110-288) which provided a permanent exemption for all 13 million US recreational vessels from the requirement to obtain an NPDES permit for their incidental discharges, and directed the EPA and the Coast Guard to develop uniform national regulations for such discharges.   This is precisely the same treatment sought by the current legislation for all commercial fishing vessels.

 https://www.shrimpalliance.com/important-progress-made-on-vessel-discharge-permit-exemption-legislation/

 

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