Feb 7 2015

Alaska senators hope to toss overbroad fishing-discharge regs overboard

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Chris Klint, Senior Digital Producer, cklint@ktuu.com

ANCHORAGE –

Three U.S. senators, including both of Alaska’s, are pushing to gut the application of an Environmental Protection Agency discharge regulation to small fishing boats they say could punish cleaning up fish guts.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Alaska Republicans, joined Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Thursday in sponsoring legislation which would remove the expiration date on a three-year moratorium for commercial fishing vessels, as well as commercial vessels under 79 feet long. The incidental discharge regulation was part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in December.

“The flawed regulation is written so broadly that it would penalize Alaska’s fisherman and more than 8,000 boats statewide simply for rinsing fish guts off their deck, or rainwater washing other materials off their decks,” Murkowski’s office wrote in a statement on the 2014 bill Thursday.

In a December Senate speech on the proposed moratorium, Murkowski offered her colleagues a fisherman’s perspective on what the regulations meant.

“For those who need a little more graphic detail as to what we’re talking about, when you take a commercial fishing vessel out, your 45-foot commercial fishing vessel, and you have a good day fishing, you’ve got some salmon guts on the deck,” Murkowski said. “You’ve got a little bit of slime. You hose it off.  That would be an incidental discharge that would be reportable to the EPA, and if you fail to report, you could be subject to civil penalties. That’s what we’re talking about here.”

youtubeMurkowski Speaks on Senate Floor on Vessel Discharge Agreement — video

Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling said Thursday that the sweep of the EPA regulations seemed to be a product of being overbroad, rather than an intentional effect.

“I think this was designed for big, huge fishing boats, and they just forgot to make the reasonable exception,” Felling said.

The Peninsula Clarion reported last year that leaders of Alaska commercial fishing groups had questioned the sensibility of applying the regulations to small fishing boats, noting that they would bar pumping rainwater overboard or returning parts of halibut removed from the sea to the sea.

With bipartisan support from Boxer, Felling said Murkowski is optimistic that a permanent version of the moratorium “is going to happen.”

“Sen. Boxer had announced that she’s not running again, and this has been a real priority for her,” Felling said. “We want to make sure this gets done this Congress, to give certainty and security and right a wrong that may not have been intended in the first place.”

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