This week NACO has had great success for the membership. My trip to DC and Silver Spring to attend the HMS Advisory Panel meeting was very successful. The HMS division is responsible for all HMS species in the Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean. As all should know the HMS Division of NMFS sent an alert notifying HMS charter/headboat permits that the permits are now considered commercial permits by the USCG since the permit allows for the sale of legal HMS species both on a charter or commercial fishing. This designation by the USCG means that those vessel owners and operators who intend to sell HMS species under the HMS charter/headboat permit must comply with all USCG commercial fishing vessel requirements when fishing more than 3 miles offshore. Compliance with the USCG commercial fishing vessel requirements is expensive and burdensome. The USCG intended to have all HMS charter/headboat vessel owners and operators comply regardless if they intended to sell or not.
NACO took immediate action to resolve the situation. We sent several emails and strongly suggested to HMS and the USCG that if the permit was going to be considered commercial regardless if the vessel owner and operator fished strictly recreational, not intending to sell, or commercial that HMS should create a separate charter/headboat permit designated recreational only. We also requested that until the issue was resolved by the HMS division that they use discretion when checking and boarding vessels and to only require compliance with the commercial regs if they found an intent to sell.
After much discussion at AP there was overwhelming support to create 2 permits, one rec, one commercial. While the AP recommendation is overwhelming by the entire group consisting of recreational, commercial, state, and ngo representatives the HMS process is slow to respond. Once the HMS division decides if the 2 permits are the way to go the process to create and implement any new permits will take 9 to 12 months according to HMS staff. I personally requested the USCG representative to work with those vessel owners and operators who have the current charter/headboat permits until HMS could make a final determination. I have been assured by the USCG rep that she has instructed the USCG boarding parties in the mid Atlantic region to use discretion and only require compliance with the USCG commercial fishing vessel regs for those who intend to sell thus allowing those who are rec fishing only not to have to comply with the USCG commercial regs. She also told me that her counterparts in the other regions of the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean will be issued similar guidance from HQ as soon as it has been created. This means that all HMS charter/headboat permit owners and operators can rest easy and fish as they normally do with fear of any action by the USCG. If any NACO member who has a HMS charter/headboat permit and does sell or intends to sell then you will have to comply with the USCG requirements or face possible penalties. If you do not sell or intend to sell then you do not have to comply. Good fishing.
As all know NACO has been working on the EPA NPDES requirement since 2007 in an effort to gain a permanent exemption from the burdensome and costly permits and process. We have been able to obtain a temporary exemption with the most recent exemption to expire this December. We have been able to get passage of the permanent exemption in the House pretty much every year but have run into issues with some key Senators so have not been able to gain passage in the Senate. This week, the Senate Commerce Committee has approved by voice vote S1129, the USCG Authorization Act of 2017, which includes VIDA, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, that will provide a permanent exemption to the NPDES requirement for all commercial vessels less than 79’. This is great news as the Commerce Committee action was fully bipartisan so we are very close to finally gaining this exemption. We have worked with many other vessel organizations across the country to get this legislation where it is and hopefully we have success very soon. This has been a priority for NACO since 2007 and will eliminate future burdens and costs for the charter for hire industry.
We ask that every member contact their 2 Senators and request they fully support the S1129, Coast Guard Authorization Act for 2017 when it comes up for a vote in the full Senate. Every vote by a Senator will be critical in getting this legislation passed.
As always, thanks for your continued support for all the work we do. Under the new Administration we are looking to ease more regulations and burdens on your small business.
Capt. Bob Zales, II