Fishermen get short reprieve on EPA discharge rules

Alaska’s congressional delegation has secured another short-lived extension to exempt smaller Alaska fishing vessels, under 79 feet, from Environmental Protection Agency incidental discharge regulations, which expired on Dec. 18, 2017. The temporary extension, which is effective only until Jan. 19, will provide fishing and small commercial vessels relief as Congress pursues a permanent exemption to a patchwork of burdensome federal and state regulations for vessel ballast water and incidental discharges.

The delegation is hoping for a permanent solution some time early this year. Without the exemption, small vessel operators and fishermen will be forced to obtain EPA permits for even the most basic activity, including vessel deck runoff, hosing out their fish holds, and other minor discharges.

“This is a much needed extension for the exemption of commercial fishing vessels and other small boats from meeting the mandates of the EPA’s incidental discharge permits, which gives us time to permanently fix the problem,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a press release. “I have long fought against this nonsensical EPA rule being imposed on our fishing fleet, which according to the EPA itself, does not help regulate pollution discharges properly. It was written so broadly that it penalizes Alaska’s fisherman for simply washing fish guts off their decks. This is an unacceptable standard to force on our state’s fishing fleet. It’s imperative that we permanently exempt our fishermen from the regulatory and monetary burden it imposes. Alaska and our small vessel owners deserve better. I look forward to working with (bill sponsor) Senator (Dan) Sullivan and others to finalize a permanent solution.”

Congressman Don Young weighed in, saying, “While this is a short-term fix to a long-term problem, the Alaska delegation has been working to develop a permanent solution to this frivolous and burdensome rule issued by the EPA.” Calling it a prime example of over-regulation, Young added that “the fishing industry is vital to Alaska, and the EPA doesn’t need to make it harder for them to do their jobs by paying for unnecessary permits.” Sen. Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Coast Guard Subcommittee, has been working to pass the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, which would provide all fishing vessels and small commercial vessels with a permanent exception to incidental vessel discharges while “ensuring environmental protection of our nation’s ports and waterways.”

Cristy Fry can be reached at