Begich Advances Bill on Incidental Water Discharge

Jul 28, 2014

Credit Senator Mark Begich

Water discharged from fishing vessels and other marine watercraft is the subject of a new bill that has just advanced out of committee.  KDLG”s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

US Senator Mark Begich announced that S. 2094 has just left the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  Known as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, the bill deals with regulations on water discharged from fishing boats and other marine vessels.  The regulations are designed to deal with ballast water, which is used by ships for balance, and when discharged into the sea, can contain harmful microorganisms and/or invasive species.  While the regulations are meant to deal with larger vessels, such as bulk cargo ships, Begich says they can apply in odd ways for smaller vessels.

“Right now, for example, if you’re out there fishing and it’s raining, the EPA will require you to test that water that’s landing on your deck during your fishing before it goes back into the ocean.  Well that doesn’t make any sense.  So this legislation creates a national standard that cuts the red tape, lowers the regulation on EPA, still protects water quality, but helps our fishermen, as well as barges, ships, and so forth, comply with the law.”

With S. 2094, Begich hopes to create a uniform standard for water discharge, clearing up ambiguities in the law and reducing red tape, especially for fishing vessels and barges, which are commonplace in Alaska.  It also involves exempting so-called “incidental discharges” by vessels smaller than 79 feet.  These include typical fishing boats, tenders, and some recreational vessels.  Begich notes that while exemptions have been granted on a year-to-year basis, this would deal with the problem for good.

“It’s very exciting because we’ve been working on this for several years.  We’ve been able to get extensions, but this would permanently fix the problem, and it’s purely a bipartisan bill that I’m honored to be the sponsor of with my friend from Florida Marco Rubio.”

With the bill out of committee, Begich and his colleagues are working to get it considered on the Senate floor.  The Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization representing commercial fishermen, applauded the bill getting out of committee, and encouraged Begich and Rubio to get it on the floor before the end of the session.  They said if the exemptions were allowed to expire, it could push their industry off a “fish cliff.”

Full text of S. 2094, as well as updates on its progress in the Senate, can be found at congress.gov.