Senate panel approves bills that would boost industry

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Three bills that would benefit the boating and fishing industries advanced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2017; the Billfish Conservation Act; and the Small Shipyards and Maritime Communities Act.

Coast Guard reauthorization

The bill would authorize funding for the Coast Guard for fiscal 2018 and possibly 2019.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association supports several boating and safety provisions in the bill, although opponents said it would weaken protections against the spread of invasive species and ballast discharge.

S. 1129 included provisions that would transfer authority over ballast water from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Coast Guard, according to M Live Media Group, the parent company for several Michigan newspapers.

There were disagreements about provisions related to the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, but committee members seemed confident of their ability to work out a compromise before the bill heads to the Senate floor, the NMMA said.

Recreational boating is exempt from VIDA language because of the Clean Boating Act; however, the NMMA said it will continue to monitor VIDA as an important tool to regulate the spread of waterway discharge and aquatic invasive species.

Billfish Conservation Act

The Billfish Conservation Act, introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., would allow the legislation to be implemented as intended when it was signed into law in 2012.

The Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 banned the importation of all billfish caught by foreign fleets into the continental United States and, perhaps most important, set an example for other countries to pursue similar conservation efforts once thought impossible.

However, questions arose about whether the prohibitions on foreign-caught billfish that the bill imposes also applied to billfish caught commercially in Hawaii. If commercially caught billfish could be transported from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, it would circumvent the intent of the conservation measure.

S. 396 simply clarifies that billfish landed in Hawaii must be retained there, according to the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

Small Shipyards and Maritime Communities Act

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced the Small Shipyards and Maritime Communities Act (S. 1100) to reauthorize the Small Shipyard Grant Program through 2020.

The bipartisan measure passed as part of the Maritime Administration Authorization and Enhancement Act for fiscal 2018.

The NMMS said Small Shipyard grants support American shipyards and facilities that have fewer than 1,200 employees and provide parts for shipbuilding and large vessels, maintenance and repair services.

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