San Luis Obispo County sport fishing operators are sounding the alarm bells over proposed new California emissions standards that they say would render their boats useless and bankrupt them.
“If the current regulations are in place, I will be closed,” said Wayne Blicha, owner and operator of Avila Beach’s Flying Fish Sportfishing. “I’ll have a worthless boat in California.”
In its mission to clean the air, protect public health, and fight climate change, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) has proposed changes to its harbor commercial boat emissions regulations that would require many ships to upgrade to a cleaner level, “level 4” engines with diesel particulate filters between 2023 and 2030.
In some cases, upgrading is not possible due to the material of the boats, so operators would have to replace the entire boat, they say. It could also lead to higher ticket prices for consumers.
CARB says the proposed improvements would significantly reduce diesel emissions from harbor vessels – which include commercial fishing vessels, charter fishing vessels, tugs, ferries, dredges, and tour boats such as operators. whale watching.
The regulations provide for grace periods of up to six years to allow operators to purchase new boats, or two years with indefinite renewals until a compatible engine for their current boat is available.
“The proposed changes are expected to prevent 501 premature deaths, 153 hospitalizations and 224 emergency room visits” for air pollution-related causes between 2023 and 2038, says CARB’s cargo technology section director David Quiros .
If the CARB excluded sport fishing vessels from its proposed regulatory changes, “by 2035 emissions from all harbor vessels would be twice as high as if they were included,” Quiros wrote to The Tribune in a report. -mail.
Sport fishing boat owners say new regulations will bankrupt them
The installation of these Level 4 engines in sport fishing vessels, however, raises concerns and doubts among owners such as Blicha.
Blicha has owned his boat, the Flying Fish, since 2016. He is a 43-foot fiberglass sport fisherman.
Each year, he takes about 3,000 people out of Port San Luis to fish for rockfish and cod in the Pacific Ocean off the central coast. His business generates more than $ 200,000 a year, minus expenses and salary costs for himself and his two employees, he said.
Flying Fish has a Level 3 diesel engine, which was installed in the boat in 2010, he said.
“The problem with the upgrade (level 4) is that our engine room will not hold up and tolerate this technology,” said Blicha. “Even if it is allowed, it will probably reduce my capacity considerably as these are much heavier engines, and it would change the stability of the vessel.”
Kyle Dyerly, who owns and operates the Phenix, a 45-foot fiberglass sport fisherman in Avila Beach, said he was also concerned about the rules.
“It will effectively stop sport fishing and whale watching in California, period,” Dyerly told The Tribune.
He also highlighted the issue of the combustion temperature of Tier 4 engines.
Because his boat – as well as most sport fishing boats in California – is fiberglass, Dyerly said the engine and exhaust would need significant thermal protection so as not to melt the boat.
“We had to buy new steel boats,” he said. “And these don’t come cheap. It’s not like I can spend a few million dollars to buy a new boat.
Dyerly said he saved up to upgrade the Phenix’s Tier 2 engine to a Tier 3 engine. He saved around $ 150,000 for the upgrade, which he originally planned to do on his own. next year.
“But I’m not going to spend $ 150,000 on pipes that will be obsolete the following year,” he said. “I prefer to use this money to leave the state.”
The proposed settlement could impact hundreds along the California coast
An estimated 334 commercial passenger fishing vessels operate in California out of a total fleet of 3,159 vessels, according to CARB. Most, if not all, of these commercial passenger fishing boats would need a Level 4 upgrade and a diesel particulate filter.
Locally, the new regulations would impact around 16 boats in San Luis Obispo County, according to a 2018 Economic Impact Report for Port San Luis, the most recent report available.
Dyerly and Blicha operate independently and through Patriot Sportfishing. Other local operations include Virg’s Landing Sportfishing and whale watching operations such as Sub Sea Tours in Morro Bay.
More than 80% of sport fishing and whale watching boats are made of fiberglass or wood, according to the Sportfishing Association of California.
So each of those boats would likely have to be taken out of service and replaced with a steel boat, which is just not feasible for most owners, the Sportfishing Association said in a press release on the draft regulations. CARB.
“Before owners of sport fishing and whale watching boats can recoup their financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Newsom administration has proposed draconian regulations that will take hundreds of family-operated boats out of service. “, Ken Franke, President of the Sportfishing Association. of California, said in the statement. “Boat owners are learning for the first time that their days at sea are numbered and their livelihoods may be lost. The removal of sport fishing and whale watching boats from California ports will have a devastating economic impact on coastal communities that depend on tourism for their jobs.
Installing new engines is expensive, owners say
CARB’s proposed changes to its emissions regulations include potential extensions for boat owners.
“If the engines are not available for the design of the vessel, the 2-year compliance extensions can be renewed indefinitely or until an engine is certified,” Quiros wrote in an email to The Tribune. “In cases where vessel replacement is the only option for compliance, up to six years of compliance extension may be granted if financial hardship is demonstrated. “
Quiros also noted that boat owners can apply for financial assistance for the installation of a cleaner engine under the Carl Moyer program and community air protection incentives.
To finance the replacement of the engine or vessel themselves, the CARB believes that operators should increase 14% to 28% ticket prices compared to today’s prices.
For a boat ride from Dyerly or Blicha, that would mean that a standard half-day trip would range from $ 80 to anywhere between $ 91 and $ 102.
Quiros maintains that this is something customers would be willing to do.
“Sport fishing customers are purchasing a recreation and recreation service and are in a good position to absorb the additional costs needed to protect neighboring communities by reducing toxic diesel exhaust,” he wrote to The Tribune.
But Dyerly and Blicha say they want sport fishing to remain affordable for the thousands of tourists who come to the central coast each year. They fear that an increase in ticket prices will reduce their clientele, especially since customers must also bear the other costs associated with deep-sea fishing, such as a California fishing license, rods and tackle. .
Dyerly said he understands CARB’s intentions to purify the air in ports and reduce emissions from ships – something he supports for as long as possible and allows his business to survive in order that he could put food on the table for his wife and two young daughters.
“I think we should definitely have the cleanest engines possible, but we should be able to do that without completely closing our doors,” he said. “And what’s going to happen when we’re gone?” We release fish humanely, we teach people about ocean biology and ecosystems. Like, who’s gonna watch the whales too? I don’t think anybody’s going to do that when we’re gone. It’s a little depressing.
The proposed regulation is expected to be reviewed by CARB’s 16-member board in November. The public will soon be able to submit comments to the board before or during the meeting.
A petition calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to “save sport fishing and your access to California waters” gathered more than 12,500 signatories, of which about 337 were residents of San Luis Obispo County, according to Marko Mlikotin, spokesperson for the Sportfishing Association. from California. You can sign the petition by going to savefishing.com.