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Emission regulations threaten sportfishing and whale watching boats

On September 28, the Sportfishing Association of California and the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association delivered a petition signed by over 20,000 Californians to Governor Newsom’s Capitol Office that asks Governor Newsom to “Save Our Boats”. The petition asks Governor Gavin Newsom to intervene before California Air Resources Board (CARB) implements engine emission regulations that if approved, will devastate small family-owned fishing and whale watching boats.

On September 21, 2021, CARB released its Proposed Amendments to the Commercial Harbor Craft Regulation. The public comment period is September 24 – November 8th, and the CARB Board, appointed largely by Governor Gavin Newsom, is expected to rule November 19, 2021.

“It is unimaginable to think that the State would design regulations that will require more than 80 percent of passenger sportfishing and whale watching vessels to be removed from the water because boat owners can’t comply with regulations that mandate technology that does not exist, much less proven safe at sea,” said Rick Oefinger, president of Marina del Rey Sportfishing and board member of the Sportfishing Association of California. “As these mom-and-pop operations go out of business, Californians will be denied access to offshore fishing and marine life, decimating coastal economies dependent on outdoor tourism for jobs.”

CARB’s regulations require engines to be modified with technology that has not been developed yet for commercial passenger fishing vessels and in most cases, the modifications will be too massive to fit into existing engine rooms. This led the California State University Maritime Academy to conclude that the proposed standards for existing engines does not exist and in the alternative, “… treatment equipment (modifications) alone significantly impacts the vessel’s stability.”

Given that compliance will be impossible for some, if not most, passenger boats, CARB concluded that vessels constructed of wood and fiberglass will likely be removed from service. Over 80 percent of commercial passenger boats are constructed of wood and fiberglass, requiring boat owners to purchase new metal boats beginning in 2023 or go out of business as extensions expire.

“If the regulations are adopted, fishermen who can’t afford to buy new metal vessels will go out of business in the next few years,” said Rick Powers, the owner of Bodega Bay Sportfishing and president of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association. “My entire life savings is sunk into a boat that will be deemed non-compliant and will have no resale value in California. No boat owner has millions of dollars laying around to buy a new boat. Making a living by fishing is hard work, soon it will be impossible.”

Should a boat owner be able to afford a new metal boat with lower emission fossil burning engines and addons starting in 2023, it is conceivable that they would have to purchase another new boat before 2035 when Governor Newsom’s Executive Order (N-79-20) requires boats to achieve zero-emissions. The added weight of electric motors powered with heavy and bulky batteries or hydrogen tanks could once again raise stability and safety issues. Conceivably, multi-million-dollar boats that typically have a lifespan of 50-years or more would once again be removed from service within 12-years or less. Once CARB has deemed a boat non-compliant, it will have no resale value in California, making the financing of new boats more challenging.

CARB’s regulations have invited bipartisan opposition from State Legislators and a coalition of (20) chambers of commerce and tourism authorities representing coastal communities from San Diego to the Oregon border, municipalities and (13) state and national associations representing tourism, small businesses, sportfishing and marina operators.

“Tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world come to the Monterey Peninsula to enjoy the splendors of the sea, whether their passion is viewing marine wildlife or sportfishing,” said Benji Shake, owner of Princess Monterey Whale Watching and Cruises. “It will be so sad to see some passenger boats, some in families for generations, removed from service because the State has designed regulations that are economically and structurally infeasible. For some, a way of life will come to an end and the collateral damage will be the local economy just as the tourism industry is rebounding from the pandemic.”

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