Will California Emissions Rules Sink Sport Fishing Businesses?

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California air pollution regulators have cracked down on large trucks, buses, freighters and various manufacturers.

Their latest target is a much smaller industry: sport fishing and whale watching operators, whose aging diesel-powered boats are responsible for what officials say is an inordinate amount of dangerous pollution that lingers in marinas and state bays.

The California Air Resources Board is meeting on Friday to consider a measure that would require owners of sport fishing, whale watching and other tour boats to install the latest, cleanest diesel engines and potentially also a filter for reduce exhaust emissions.

Boat owners are mostly family businesses that cater to anglers and families. They say they don’t have the finances – unlike other large companies – to comply with the proposed regulations and that many could be forced to go out of business.

“I’m terrified. Am I supposed to learn a new trade now?” Said Jeff Jessop, 46, co-owner of three fishing boats and a landing stage in San Pedro, who has been in the business since he was a teenager and works as a deckhand. “I thought that was my future and my retirement.”

Industries, including large-platform truck companies and cargo ship operators, have expressed fears before environmental regulations cost workers jobs and shut down businesses. Business experts and researchers generally say that environmental regulations have very little to do with reducing the total number of jobs in the economy. Instead, they say, regulations often shift jobs from one industry to another – from oil industries to clean energy companies, for example.

Regulations increase the cost of doing business, reducing profits, experts say.

“There could well be changes in who operates companies in this industry,” said Cary Coglianese, professor of law and director of the regulatory program at the University of Pennsylvania. “Is this sector going to disappear completely? I find it hard to imagine that.

If the boats pollute the air for nearby residents, Coglianese said, it makes sense that they pay to ease that burden.

“You could say that society is subsidizing these companies,” he said. “We are bearing the cost of this harmful pollution. “

In the case of family businesses such as boat operators, environmental regulations often force the industry to regroup into a smaller number of better-funded companies willing to pay for environmental improvements.

“The industry survives, but it’s the makeup that changes,” said Shon Hiatt, professor of management and organization at USC. “Regulations generally reduce competition and increase costs. “

Captain Danny Ericson visits the engine room of the New Del Mar, a boat operated by Marina del Rey Sportfishing.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Many wood and fiberglass boats – the majority of the state’s tour boats – cannot accommodate the new motors and filters on offer, and therefore must be replaced with metal vessels that cost between 2 and 5. million dollars, according to state officials and boat owners. Boat owners say the engines, called Tier 3 and Tier 4, and filters are too big and heavy, and generate so much heat that they cannot be fitted in most existing vessels.

They also say the required particulate filter can become clogged under certain conditions, forcing boat captains to shut off engines and let the boat drift while the crew tries to unclog the filter.

To pay for the cost of a new boat with a cleaner combustion engine, Air Resources Board representatives suggest boat owners increase the daily price of a sport fishing or whale watching trip – which now ranges from around $ 55 to $ 110 – around $ 40. per person.

“It is a very ugly situation for this government to dictate very unrealistic diktats to the people,” said Rick Oefinger, president of Marina del Rey Sportfishing in this community, where he operates six boats and employs 15 workers.

A second and final vote on the proposed regulation is expected in the spring. If passed, it would come into effect in 2023, but boat owners who are having financial difficulties meeting the deadline can request postponement of compliance until 2034.

The regulations are part of a larger state effort that began in 2007 to reduce emissions generated at California’s busy ports and marinas, some of the nation’s largest.

Together, they are expected to reduce at least 1,560 tonnes of diesel emissions between 2023 and 2038, the equivalent of the emissions released by 246,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks traveling from Los Angeles to Sacramento every day for a year, according to Air Resources. Plank.

In the San Pedro area, the Air Resources Board estimates that sport fishing, whale watching and other daily excursion boats generate 21% of all emissions, the third largest source of air pollution in the region. A sport fishing boat generates about as much pollution as 162 five-year-old school buses, according to the state agency.

“Harbor boats are one of the top three contributors to emissions that increase cancer risk around port and marine facilities,” said Bonnie Soriano, head of the Freight Activity Branch at the California Air Resources Board. “This [regulation] reduces the risk of cancer from emissions for nearly 15 million people.

The proposed regulations are expected to prevent 531 premature deaths, 161 hospitalizations and 236 hospital visits over the next decade, according to the Air Resources Board.

The state agency is considering similar emissions regulations for commercial fishing operations, which operate more than 1,000 vessels in the state. If passed, the program will not take effect until 2035. The Air Resources Board plans to give owners of commercial fishing vessels more time to comply, as agency officials say companies do not have the same ability to pass on the cost of new engines. and ships to their customers.

Marina Del Rey Sportfishing President Rick Oefinger stands on the deck of his boat.

Rick Oefinger, president of Marina del Rey Sportfishing, on the deck of one of the six fishing boats in his fleet.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Air Resources Board officials acknowledge that the regulations will force many boat owners to replace their boats with new ones. They note that the average boat used in California for sport fishing and whale watching is 45 years old and will eventually need to be replaced. They reject claims that particulate filters are prone to clogging.

“We assume that a majority if not all sport fishing boats need to be replaced to comply,” said David Quiros, director of the cargo technology section at the Air Resources Board.

When the Air Resources Board imposed similar emissions regulations on large trucks in 2013, trucking companies estimated they had to spend more than $ 10,000 per truck to comply. Many independent truck operators have gone bankrupt due to regulation, while large trucking companies have met the requirements and continued to thrive, said Hiatt, a professor at USC.

The challenge for small boat owners is to secure financing to pay for environmental upgrades and to persuade passengers to pay higher prices to help cover upgrade costs.

“How much can the cost of whale watching or sport fishing increase before losing customers?” Said Jerry Nickelsburg, professor of economics at UCLA.

Early on a recent weekday, several dozen fishermen gathered on one of Oefinger’s boats for a half-day of fishing. A flock of seagulls and pelicans followed the ship out to sea, seeking to retrieve any discarded bait or fish remains in the ship’s wake.

Mist hung over the dark, cold morning as anglers bemoaned proposed changes that could increase the price of their favorite hobby.

James Miller, a South Bay angler who fishes weekly, said the suggested fee hike of $ 40 would mean fewer fishing trips.

“Most of the people who fish are middle class. Forty dollars is a lot of money for them, ”he said. “If you are rich, you buy your own boat.”

Art Preston from Los Angeles said he would be mad at higher fishing fees, but that wouldn’t stop him from fishing every week.

“They’re putting these guys out of business,” he said angrily of the state’s environmental regulators.

A sport fishing boat at night.

Fishing trips start early in the morning. Boat owners fear the new emissions rules could bankrupt them.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Jaime Diamond operates two sport fishing boats out of Santa Barbara, a 65-foot boat called Stardust, built in 1968, and a 60-foot boat called Coral Sea, built in 1961.

Diamond, who employs 13 workers, said she couldn’t afford to buy a new $ 4 million boat to meet state guidelines, and even if she could find the money, she didn’t think not that his clients would pay more for his daily fishing trips. .

“Our average client is a working class guy,” she said.

None of Diamond’s boats can contain the new low-emission engines offered by the state, she said, making it impossible for her to sell them in California to help cover the cost of buying new boats. The boats would be difficult to sell out of state because they were built for the specific fishing style and weather conditions in California, she added.

Some boat owners also feel targeted as commercial fishing vessels are given several more years to comply.

“I just feel like they’re stacking bridges against us,” Diamond said.

Oefinger and other boat owners said the Air Resources Board should instead crack down on large commercial vessels, which typically emit more pollution than whale watching and sport fishing tours.

“We’re not a big player in the grand scheme of things,” he said.

Soriano of the Air Resources Board said the agency has adopted or is considering pursuing emissions regulations for all major ocean polluters.

“They are certainly not distinguished,” she said of the small boat operators.


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