Senate Passes Bill For a Moratorium
Permits for Commercial Fishing Vessels
July 22, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. The United States Senate today unanimously
passed a bill authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and co-sponsored
by Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaska Republicans, that would provide
commercial fishing boats and other small commercial vessels a
two-year moratorium from permits for discharges under the Clean
The bill also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to
conduct a study to determine the types, volumes and effects of
discharges from commercial vessels of different sizes and categories.
The EPA would provide a report to Congress within 15 months that
would be used to determine if permanent exemptions are warranted.
This legislation is a companion bill to the Clean Boating Act
which also passed the Senate by unanimous consent today. The
U.S. House of Representatives today also approved bills to ensure
that millions of recreational boaters, fishermen and small commercial
vessel operators will not be newly subjected to massive fines
for the normal operation of their vessels.
The Clean Boating Act provides
a permanent exemption to recreational vessels to the same incidental
discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.
"In Alaska, the 9,700 vessels that make up the commercial
fishing fleet are predominantly small boats, with an average
length of 36 feet," Murkowski said. "Similar to recreational
boats, they operate seasonally, spending around 90 days on the
water each year. Commercial vessel discharges are comparable
to recreational for the same sized vessels. Although the recreational
sector was able to get an exemption, it is my hope that the commercial
vessel study will provide the data to justify a similar exemption
for the commercial sector."
Said Stevens: "This compromise was hard fought. Senator
Boxer's bill only exempted recreational boaters from arduous
Clean Water Act standards but it left small commercial fishermen
facing the same standards as a cruise liner. The owner of a yacht
would have qualified for the exemption but gillnetters on a 35-foot
boat would've had to commit their time and resources to getting
an additional federal permit. This compromise will allow for
a two-year exemption while the impacts of incidental discharge
are studied. It is my hope that we will eventually make the exemption
for commercial and recreational vessels permanent."
The commercial vessels that are covered under the moratorium
are commercial fishing vessels of any size and other commercial
vessels less than 79 feet.
Discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels have
been exempt from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination
System (NPDES) permits under the Clean Water Act since 1973.
The NPDES was developed for industrial sources of pollution and
was not designed for mobile sources.
In 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of
California ruled that the EPA exceeded its authority under the
Clean Water Act in exempting these discharges and issued an order
revoking the exemption and requiring the agency to permit these
discharges by September 30, 2008. The EPA has appealed
the decision, but in the meantime, the agency has proposed to
permit both recreational and commercial vessels under two general
Murkowski said that neither recreational nor small commercial
vessels have documented discharge levels that have been shown
to be harmful to the environment. The court case that required
the EPA to develop a permit system was focused on invasive species
and ballast water. Neither recreational nor small commercial
vessels have ballast tanks and very few are ocean-going vessels.
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