Future of passenger sportfishing boats uncertain



Guest Editorial by Ken Franke, President, Sportfishing Association of California

More than 12,000 anglers have signed the “Save Fishing” petition displayed at sportfishing landings all along California’s coastline, from San Diego to the Oregon border – and for good reason.

Last year, as owners of passenger sportfishing and whale watching boats were fretting over whether their businesses would survive the financial losses of the COVID-19 lockdowns, regulators at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) were quietly working on engine emission regulations that are so cost prohibitive, they will do what the pandemic could not  do – put them out of business.


It is unimaginable to think that this was CARB’s intent. However, this is proving to be the end result. In CARB’s own words they stated, “…staff cannot rule out the possibility of some business elimination if costs cannot be passed on to the customer or if passing through costs would result in significant decrease in demand.”

Unfortunately, their economic assessment is on the mark.

 Nonetheless, CARB has not reversed course even though their proposed regulations will undermine Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to restore half of the 1.2 million hospitality and tourism jobs lost during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, recreational fishing contributed over $5.6 billion in economic activity a year, supporting nearly 40,000 Californians dependent on outdoor tourism for jobs. A California comeback will not be possible if anglers don’t have access to offshore fishing.

It was unimaginable to think that CARB’s regulations would be seriously considered. But they are, despite a host of structural barriers that should have sent CARB back to the drawing board. The regulations require technology that does not exist and has not been proven safe at sea. In fact, the regulations have not received the blessing of the U.S. Coast Guard that regulates passenger vessels.

Moreover, the modifications mandated  are so massive that engine rooms may have to double in size, requiring boat hulls to undergo major reconstruction. For boat owners who know their vessels best, this is not structurally possible.  Apparently, CARB agrees. When CARB was asked at a workshop whether vessels would have to be replaced in order to come into compliance. CARB responded, ”… vessel replacement will be likely, especially the categories with wood or fiberglass vessels that can’t be as easily reconfigured.”

CARB’s admission is devastating since over 80% of California sportfishing boats are constructed with these materials. The livelihood of hundreds of boat owners and crew will soon come to an end as boats are removed from service.

So, there you have it.  In their own words, CARB has developed regulations that are not economically feasible and most sportfishing and whale watching boats are not structurally capable of compliance. And all this is being foisted on boat owners, starting as soon as January 2023 and not when the lifespan of their boats or engines has expired.

Needless to say, boat owners are fighting back – they have no choice. Fortunately, coastal communities are also coming to their defense. Far too many jobs depend on the outcome of these proposed regulations. Most everyone agrees, Governor Gavin Newsom is uniquely positioned to save sportfishing. It should be part of his post COVID-19 economic recovery plan. As petitions and letters flood the Governor’s office, we just hope he listens – that he cares.

You can help too. Join the petition at www.SaveFishing.com. The captain and crew of your favorite fishing vessel thanks you – as do their families.