California poised to impose wave of boat emissions rules in 2022

Like users of lawn mowers and gas leaf blowers, working boat captains, excursion operators and fishermen will be asked to get on board with new engine emissions regulations starting as early as 2022.

The California Air Resources Board released its proposed emissions regulations on commercial boats in September. After hosting hundreds of meetings and receiving an opposing petition signed by thousands of sport fishers in California, the air quality agency expects to finalize the first in a montage of stricter guidelines to upgrade the boats by next spring.

A virtual meeting is set for Jan. 12 at 4 p.m. to review the latest proposal affecting a slew of watercraft, including excursion vessels, ferries, tugboats, crew rigs, supply vessels, barges and dredges.

By the end of 2022, the regulations will require upgraded engines on commercial harbor craft. Following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency marine standards, CARB plans to have the rules in effect by early 2023. The rules and timelines vary based on the boat’s use and designation as outlined in the 130-page CARB document.

The state has implemented an incentive funding program for boat owners to apply for assistance to upgrade their engines to meet the new standards.

CARB, which has regulated commercial harbor craft since 2009, hopes to reduce the amount of noxious gases emitted, mostly by boats in the ports as they move about.

The air quality agency estimates that one of these old diesel engines may throw out bad air particulates “the equivalent to 162 school buses,” CARB Freight Technology Manager David Quiros cited.

But these sports fishers, among other boat owners, may find the process difficult and costly.

“They have a lot to worry about. What is required for most of these boats is a technology that doesn’t exist,” Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director Mike Conroy told the Business Journal. “CARB doesn’t understand vessel design and operation, and it shows in the draft language.”

In some cases, charter boats require a diesel particulate filter that won’t fit in some boats.

But for clean-energy advocates and policy wonks, the aim is for the regulations to nudge manufacturers to retool their products to make them more environmentally friendly.

CARB is also reviewing similar emission controls under a different timeline for commercial fishing operations, which operate about 1,000 boats statewide.

If that proposal survives the process, that program won't take effect 13 years from now.

“Commercial fishermen will have to abide by this at some point,” Conroy said, admitting to mounting frustration over the assortment of new rules as additional setbacks for boat captains. “We’ve warned (the state) that, at this rate, we’ll have no California fishing in a decade.”

School of hard knocks and innovation

Dick Ogg, who uses his Bodega Bay-docked boat for commercial fishing, became quite creative, taking drastic measures to upgrade his commercial watercraft.

“I knew in time I’d have to change my engine,” he said, complying to the new rules in advance.

Essentially, Ogg cut his boat “in half” to make way for an engine overhaul that would reduce the carbon output from his boat. He estimated the engine’s replacement cost about $116,000.

State air quality representatives admit that in some cases “replacing the boat” may be more cost-effective, CARB Freight Activity Branch Chief Bonnie Soriano pointed out.

But the latest harbor craft regulations have been met with outrage from sport fishing groups. In September, the Sportfishing Association of California and the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, two trade groups, delivered a petition signed by more than 20,000 California stakeholders to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to intervene on their behalf.

“If the regulations are adopted, fishermen who can’t afford to buy new metal vessels will go out of business in the next few years,” said Rick Powers, owner of Bodega Bay Sportfishing and president of the Golden Gate association.

The demand is far-reaching, as over 80% of commercial passenger boats are built with wood and fiberglass.

“No boat owner has millions of dollars laying around to buy a new boat. Making a living by fishing is hard work. Soon, it will be impossible,” Powers said.

In October, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1346 into law, which phases out the manufacturing and selling of gas leaf blowers and lawn mowers by 2024.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, biotech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or

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