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Air Quality Regulations Could Bring Major Changes To Sport Fishing Industry

Captain Joe Cacciola walks next to his sport fishing boat, the Sea Star, in O...

Photo by Tania Thorne

Above: Captain Joe Cacciola walks next to his sport fishing boat, the Sea Star, in Oceanside. July 30, 2021.

Captain Joe Cacciola has owned Sea Star Sportfishing in Oceanside for the last 40 years.

“We do sport fishing trips. We do sea life adventures, which is whales, dolphins, birds. We do floating science labs, we do that with elementary schools and high school students. And we also do the burials at sea,” he said.

Listen to this story by Tania Thorne

Cacciola said business is booming now that COVID regulations have eased.

“Ever since May, it pretty much took off and I’d say because of the pent up demand, we’re really close to being back to normal,” said Cacciola.

RELATED: Port Of San Diego, Neighboring Community Striving For Cleaner Air

But just as business is back up and running, he has a new worry.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing new regulations to improve air quality.

The agency said current commercial boat engines are old and put out polluting fumes.

“California has the worst air quality in the nation and we have these federal standards that we have to meet, and it's often painful, but we have to make these regulations if we want clean air to breathe,” said Karen Caesar, a spokesperson for CARB.

CARB wants boat owners to upgrade to newer, less polluting engines.

Photo by Tania Thorne

Boats lined up at the Oceanside Harbor. July 30, 2021.

A study requested by CARB, assessed the feasibility of an engine swap for 13 types of vessels.

David Quiros, the manager of the freight technology section with CARB, said the engine swap is feasible for all of the vessels assessed except sport fishing vessels.

“There is no currently available tier 4 engine that would work on a sport fishing vessel,” said Quiros.

CARB acknowledges that the engines the regulations are requiring don’t exist in the U.S. for sport fishing vessels.

“No manufacturer in the United States makes them, but yet they’re going to require us to put them in our boats. Well if they're not there how can you do that?” said Cacciola.

Cacciola said the required engines are available in Europe, but they’re so big, they physically don’t fit on the fishing boats.

“Some of these boats are not going to be able to accommodate the equipment because there's equipment you're gonna have to add on,” he said.

RELATED: Port Of San Diego Commissions Construction Of First Fully-Electric Tugboat

Quiros said that if a boat can’t be upgraded, “it would need to be retired from service, potentially sold in an out of state market.”

Another suggestion from CARB is replacing old boats with new ones, that meet the requirements.

“That’s not even possible. Nobody's going to do that, we can’t do that. That basically takes us out of business,” said Cacciola. “To actually build a new boat to replace what I have, anywhere from 1.2 to 1.5 million dollars, and that's just one boat, so multiply that by how many boats. It's not going to happen, we can't do it. It's not possible.”

If the regulations are adopted later this year, boat owners will have 6 years to make the change.

CARB suggests that during that time, sportfishing businesses raise their prices in order to start saving money for a boat loan.

VIDEO: Air Quality Regulations Could Bring Major Changes to Sport Fishing Industry

Reported by Tania Thorne

Frank Ursutti, owns H&M Landing, the largest landing on the west coast.

He said a price increase will price out ocean access to many of his loyal customers.

“The customer base for these boats, for this type of activity, are the folks who can't afford to buy their own boat. They can't afford everything that goes along with owning your own boat, such as a sled, registration of that craft, maintenance of that watercraft, etcetera,” said Ursutti. “What we're doing now is beginning the gentrification of recreational fishing.”

In a statement CARB said, "Customers of sportfishing vessels are acquiring a leisure and recreation service, and are in a stronger position to absorb additional costs to reduce harmful emissions that communities throughout California, many of which are disadvantaged and low-income communities, experience."

Ursutti said that if the proposed regulations are passed, they would devastate the sport fishing industry in California and all the businesses that support it.

“There's over 2,000 jobs that would immediately go away. Those are directly impacted crew members. We're not talking about their families and what that means to them. Immediately those jobs would evaporate.”

Ursutti said he thinks the statewide regulations on sportfishing vessels won't have a significant impact on California's air quality.

"There's no doubt it will result in emissions savings. Significant? I don't think so when you're looking at a fleet of 174 vessels," he said.

RELATED: Local Group Of Leaders Launch ‘Accelerate To Zero Emissions’ Coalition

CARB confirmed there are 174, 6 passenger plus sportfishing vessels, and 160 smaller vessels that carry 6 passengers or less, 334 statewide.

In a statement, CARB said, "There would be a major improvement in emissions. Because these vessels are older (average age is 45 years) and emissions controls on older marine diesel engines are minimal or non-existent, each sportfishing vessel on average emits more than 100 times the diesel particulate emissions of a new heavy-duty diesel on-road truck."

Cacciola and Urustti hope CARB will consider an upgrade to the next cleanest engine that is easily available and physically feasible.

“Everyone of these boats, everyone of these boat owners, would be lined up standing by ready to up-tier to tier 3 so we can continue working, said Ursutti.

“We would hope that the conversation would include some kind of a compromise, because everybody, all of us owners, operators, were all for clean air, believe me,” said Cacciola.

CARB will be holding two more public comment meetings in November before the regulations are adopted.

Photo by Tania Thorne

Boats docked up at the Oceanside Harbor. July 30, 2021.

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Tania Thorne
North County Reporter

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