Coast Guard bill would end EPA permit mandate for fishing boats

Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter John McCormick in Ketchikan. (2017 KRBD photo)

For years, Alaska’s commercial fishing fleet has dreaded a rule that would require an EPA permit for even basic boat discharges, like draining a fish hold or rinsing the deck. Congress has had to pass a series of short-term measures to prevent enforcement of the requirement.

“Nobody thought it was a good idea,” U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said. “Democrats, Republicans -nobody thought hosing down your deck you need an EPA discharge permit.”

Now, Congress is on the verge of ditching the requirement forever. Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed a Coast Guard authorization bill co-sponsored by Sullivan that includes a permanent exemption for fishing boats of less than 79 feet.

United Fishermen of Alaska President Matt Alward says he’s been assured the House will pass the bill after Thanksgiving and send it to the president for his signature.

“After over a decade of working on it, it’s a huge deal to finally have it done,” Alward said, praising Sullivan for his work on the matter.

The Coast Guard bill also includes a land exchange on Kodiak Island with Lynden Transport. Lynden CEO Jim Jansen is among the owners of Ayakulik  Island, off the southwest side of Kodiak Island. Ayakulik would become federal property and Lynden would obtain a tract of federal land on Womens Bay, home to Kodiak’s Coast Guard station and an existing dock.

If the bill is signed into law, it could also help the federal research vessel Fairweather return to its Ketchikan homeport. The bill would allow the U.S. government to accept non-federal funds to build a dock for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship.