Column: Looming regulations threaten San Diego’s sport fishing industry


In 2019, the California Air Resources Board commissioned a report from Cal Maritime with a headline that would set the eyes of even the most out-of-date bureaucrat.

The name of the 135-page thicket of tables and diagrams?

“Assessment of the feasibility and costs of installing Tier 4 engines and exhaust aftertreatment on commercial vessels in service. “

Sounds downright Shakespearean, doesn’t it? A real page turner.

Stakeholders in the San Diego tuna hunt and everything carried on the decks of passenger ships driving millions of people that reverberate in hotels, restaurants, hardware stores, repair shops, supply docks and more, need to be careful.

Someone should take everyone out of the water, chain them to chairs in front of laptops, and force the group to read every word. Their boats and their careers literally depend on it.

The reason: If the proposed regulation from this report goes into effect in 2023, many owners and operators could close their doors by 2030. In San Diego, at H&M Landing, the largest of its kind in California, owner Frank Ursitti issued a terrible warning.

“These boats were not designed for this type of equipment,” said Ursitti, a more than 40-year veteran of the industry. “Some of them are not even available. In our America’s Cup Harbor basin, we have a fleet of about 70 boats. We would probably lose, I could say, 75 to 80 percent of them.

“Now is the time to say, ‘Let’s look ahead (and talk about improving emissions). But we can’t destroy our fleet, tie it to the dock and say you’re bankrupt. We cannot just crush an industry.

Ultimately, without getting into the very important and confusing weeds: Tier 4 engines and a diesel filtration system that will likely be needed over the next decade could cost homeowners, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars. .

That is if they can overcome the structural and financial challenges of modernizing older boats, which few are able to do. The only option left on the table by the Air Board is to buy new boats, a multi-million dollar proposal for the most part.

CARB has stressed that it finds itself sandwiched between two powerful and passionate sides as it tries to find a just and viable medium.

“We have environmental groups pushing us to demand zero emissions from every harbor boat,” said Bonnie Soriano, branch supervisor at CARB. “We worked with the industry to work on flexibility (and) come to some common ground based on what’s doable and… what we think the economy could support.

“We are convinced that we are bringing the best possible proposal to the board. … We seek to obtain the best possible benefits for public health. “

Those in San Diego sport fishing define the happy medium quite differently. They argue that a switch to Tier 3 engines would significantly improve fleet-wide emissions. They say the equipment is available, while avoiding scores by leaving the docks for good.

Cal Maritime’s report through CARB includes damning language about the cart leaving the horse in its wake.

“There are no Tier 4 engine options available for this engine power subcategory,” the report said, adding that “the modernization will have adverse effects on the stability of the vessel and reduce the number of passengers from 8 to 30 people, depending on the technology used “.

A Regulatory Impacts report released this month details the confusion for those solving the compliance puzzle.

“Option (Tier 4 engine) available: no… Feasibility: N / A… Additional machinery required: N / A… Added weight: N / A… Total installed cost: N / A.”

According to Ken Franke, president of the Sportfishing Association of California, the decrease in passenger numbers due to the additional space required to reengine and modernize the boats – if possible, but unlikely for the most part – would reduce capacity by almost 40 %.

The financial meteor in the direction of boat owners is just beginning there.

“Say you owe $ 400,000 on a boat loan and it’s wood or fiberglass,” Franke said. “You can’t put the engines they offer there. There are stability and security issues. You have six years to comply or withdraw from service.

“If you can’t (comply) which most can’t, the (CARB) suggestion is to sell the boat. We told them there was no resale value because the boats are uniquely built and they would not comply. Who would buy this boat?

“So you go to a bank and say, ‘I’m upside down with a loan of $ 400,000.’ How do you get a lender to help you on a new ship? Who is going to lend you the money for this? These current boats are part of people’s retirement plans.

Speaking with captains and local insiders, none objected to the adoption of stricter emission standards. In fact, they say the group has been a leader in acting alone to protect livelihoods.

San Diego Sport Fishing officials suggested mirroring the proposed requirement for direct-to-market commercial fishing vessels that should operate with Tier 3 engines.

Why are these vessels treated differently from those fishing with passengers? Great question. A CARB spokesperson said consumers can buy tuna from any number of places beyond California, so the industry can’t pass on the costs – unlike passenger operations.

Despite this, the more likely prospect of buying new boats terrifies many. The Cal Maritime report put the cost of a new vessel at $ 1.3 million.

Art Taylor, the owner and captain of Searcher Sportfishing, laughed.

“Does that say $ 1.3 million?” No way, ”said Taylor, who represents one of the 174 full-scale passenger boats in the San Diego fleet. “Maybe for a half-day boat that doesn’t have all the safety gear the Coast Guard requires us to have. It’s ridiculous.

“If you could get financing, which you probably can’t, you’re looking at between $ 5 million and $ 7 million for a new boat (with Tier 4 technology). You cannot charge enough to cover this.

Captains and CARB disagree on most things… the costs passed on to customers to cover compliance, boat life expectancy, technological realities, significant and unresolved safety issues, etc. .

Soriano of CARB was asked what the group would say to owners who fear losing their business.

“I don’t want to look defensive or act like we don’t appreciate their worry,” she said. “We have built flexibility into the regulations to allow extensions (up to six years) where we can; and provided a way forward in response to their concerns.

Meanwhile, the massive stakes are rising.

Soriano mentioned that there will be an opportunity for public comment when the board discusses the proposal in November. Change is possible, she insisted, although the board will ultimately dictate the details and direction.

There is a way, a way, way too much turmoil in the debate to even scratch the surface.

Think of this as a warning flare.


Proposed Recreational Craft Regulations

To learn more about pending engine requirements that could impact the sport fishing industry in San Diego:

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