Aleutians East Borough Mayor Lauds Alaska’s U.S. Senators for Small Commercial Fishing Boat Discharge Exemption Bill

July 25, 2008

Sand Point, AK – July 25, 2008 – Aleutians East Borough (AEB) Mayor Stanley Mack is commending Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R- Alaska) for  successfully getting legislation passed in Congress providing a two-year moratorium for commercial fishing boats from getting pollution permits under the Clean Water Act. 

“This is a major accomplishment. We are very grateful to Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Stevens for working so hard on this bill,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “We are especially proud of Senator Murkowski’s determination in bringing this issue to a close. We appreciate that Senator Murkowski was willing to take on Senator Barbara Boxer (D – California), who supported an exemption for recreational boaters but opposed the moratorium for small commercial fishermen. In the end, Senator Murkowski’s hard work, diligence and collaboration with Senator Patty Murray (D – Washington) paid off,” Mack added.

The moratorium applies to all commercial fishing boats and to other commercial vessels less than 79 feet long. Recreational boats will be exempt from obtaining permits at all for incidental discharges of water.

The legislation overturns a 2006 federal court ruling requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a pollution permit for every vessel in the country by Sept. 30 of this year. The court ruling had ordered the EPA to require permits for incidental discharge, including ballast and rain water, from recreational and commercial fishing vessels. Without the exemption, operating without permits could have cost commercial fishermen up to $32,000 a day. The EPA had estimated that it would have cost a new permit applicant approximately $29,000 to read and understand the rules, and an additional $148,000 to prepare the application and complete the source water body flow information.

Sen. Murkowski said there have been no documented discharges from small commercial and recreational boats known to harm the environment. The permit system would have also focused on invasive species. However, in the Aleutians East Borough, commercial fishing boaters stay in the region, so it’s very unlikely they would bring invasive species into the area.

“The total cost for a single permit application would have been approximately $177,000,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Mack. “That cost would have been far more than the value of this summer’s salmon season for many commercial fishermen.”

The approved legislation, sponsored by Murkowski and co-sponsored by Stevens, would suspend permit requirements for two years while a study is conducted to determine whether any new management practices by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard should be required. Murkowski is hopeful the study will provide the information needed to prove that a permanent exemption for commercial fishing boats is warranted.

“This legislation is a major breakthrough,” Mayor Mack added. “We’re thankful Senators Murkowski and Stevens have stood up for commercial fishermen in our region.”
The Aleutians East Borough is the municipal government encompassing the southwestern portion of the Alaska Peninsula and a number of the easternmost Aleutian Islands. It extends 300 miles along the eastern side of the Alaska Peninsula and includes the communities of Sand Point, Cold Bay, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and Nelson Lagoon. The communities are dependent on subsistence and commercial fishing. During the last 35 years, the Borough communities of Unga, Belkofski, Squaw Harbor and Sanak have become ghost towns. The 2000 Census shows an unemployment rate of 33 percent in the region. Twenty-two percent of the population lives below the poverty level.