U.S. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), a senior member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, has introduced a permanent moratorium from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state regulations and fines governing incidental discharges from commercial fishing vessels and all other commercial vessels less than 79 feet. The "Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2013" is the latest effort by LoBiondo to protect South Jersey's critical commercial fishing industry.
"Starting in December 2014, commercial fishermen, charter and tour boat operators, and owners of other commercial vessels less than 79 feet will have to apply for and receive individual permits from the EPA to discharge from their vessels such things as deck wash, bilge water, and the condensation from air conditioning units. Vessels that operate without these permits could be subject to citizen lawsuits and daily fines that exceed $32,000 per violation. Furthermore, the EPA has informed Congress that they do not have the resources to process more than 135,000 permits that would be required," said LoBiondo. "With our stagnant economy, the government must not enact federal penalties which could discourage economic growth and job creation. The fines that are scheduled to be levied against our commercial fishermen for incidental charges will be devastating to local South Jersey businesses."
In 2006, a federal court in California ruled that the EPA had to regulate the release of ballast water, bilge water, deck wash, rain water runoff and other incidental discharges from vessels under the Clean Water Act. Two (2) federal agencies and over 28 states have added additional and often contradictory regulations on top of the federal standard.
"This is welcome news to our party, charter boat and private fleets. Frank has fought off the demons every time this issue came up. Now let's hope we can make this permanent and we can carry on our day to day activities without this burden," Jim Donofrio, Executive Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
While chair of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, LoBiondo secured the current temporary moratorium expiring in December 2014 in the hopes of brokering a permanent solution to establish a single, nationwide standard for ballast water and incidental discharges. Recognizing current political realities, LoBiondo is seeking a permanent moratorium to this issue. Commercial vessels (except fishing) over 79 feet will still need to comply with the EPA standards and all recreational vessels, regardless of size, are permanently exempt from the regulations.
"South Jersey has the second biggest fishing port on the East Coast with the Port of Cape May. In fact, it is the fourth in the nation, landing over 11 million pounds of seafood worth tens of millions of dollars annually. This industry supports thousands of jobs up and down the Jersey Shore, but like all industry, this one has had stiff challenges as its weathered the storm of the recent recession," continued LoBiondo. "Congress must not allow EPA and the states to threaten fishermen with tens of thousands in daily fines if they fail to control rain water runoff from their decks and condensation from cabin air conditioners."
According to Jeff Reichle, president of Lund's Fisheries in Cape May, "this legislation is tremendously important to commercial fishermen in New Jersey and all other coastal states, making permanent an exemption from a regulation that would have crippled our fishing industries. Congressman LoBiondo has once again earned the thanks of all of us whose businesses depend on the reasonable regulation of vessels using our coastal waters. We hope other coastal legislators will join Congressman LoBiondo in supporting this vital moratorium."
"This is tremendously important for the town of Barnegat Light and our fishermen. I appreciate and thank Frank for his common-sense approach on this and other issues that are important to our fishermen. It's the right thing to do, and I'd like everyone to support Frank in these efforts," said Kirk Larson, Mayor of Barnegat Light.
The "Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2013" (H.R. 3464) has been assigned to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee for review.