Washington Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Derek Kilmer introduced legislation this week to extend an exemption for fishing boats and small vessels from the Environmental Protection Agency’s incidental discharge regulations so operators won’t face financial costs and delays.

The bill, “Fishing and Small Vessel Relief Act,” extends the current exemption for small boats under 79 feet from EPA’s vessel discharge permitting requirements. 

According to a press release, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell had introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

“Science has shown that incidental discharge from small fishing boats and other undersized vessels — those under 79 feet — do not present significant environmental risks,” stated the release. 

“These boats have been given an exemption from EPA-mandated vessel incidental discharge permitting requirements.”

The exemption is set to expire on Dec. 18. 

It would leave fishermen and small vessels at a risk of being in violation of a federal rule they’ve long been exempt from, stated the release. 

“Fishermen, shellfish growers and small vessel operators are key economic contributors to our Pacific County communities; their livelihoods represent thousands of paychecks,” Herrera Beutler said. 

“These requirements were only ever meant for larger vessels, but if Congress doesn’t act soon, the small boats will take a serious hit. I’m hopeful this bipartisan solution will be included in any end-of-year legislation to give our fishing businesses relief and certainty.”

Kilmer said the bill is a common sense solution that would shield small business owners from a regulation that is not intended to target them.

“Congress should act now to fix the problem so that our fishermen and shellfish growers have the certainty they need to keep their operations afloat,” he said.

The bill would apply to all vessels under 79 feet, including tugboats, commercial fishing boats, tour boats, research boats, towboats and offshore supply boats. 

— The Reflector 

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