The National Marine Manufacturers Association has seen quite a bit of success on Capitol Hill recently through the reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, progress implementing the Morris-Deal Commission and inserting language during the House Appropriations process to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct consumer research on ethanol, but there’s still a long way to go.
In a recent webinar, NMMA called on its members to actively engage in these three issues and lobby heavily for the advocacy that affects their way of life.
Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund reauthorization
The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund was reauthorized this spring through the federal highway gas tax bill but only until May 2015, and it will need to remain a focus for the industry. The Senate Environmental Public Works Committee and the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee are both working on long-term versions of the highway bill, both of which would extend reauthorization to five years.
“NMMA and its partners continue to work with Hill staff to insist on the integrity of the fund and to ensure that it stays together and in tact,” said Jeff Gabriel, legislative counsel for NMMA. “That is the fishing and boating interest’s money that’s used to make sure our environment and our way of life, quite frankly, is taken care of.”
The SFRBTF provides the lion’s share of funding for infrastructure grants and other significant projects important to the recreational fishing and boating industry. Congress must act to allow the Treasury Department to transfer funds out of the gas tax into the SFRBTF, tax attributable to motor boat fuel usage.
Of the $600 million the fund took in last year, over $350 million came from the gas tax. Gabriel said the fund is a “user pay” system that benefits everyone.
“If there was not SFRBTF, we would have essentially no fish or wildlife agencies in most of the states. When the money dries up like that, access issues would fall down, clean water issues would be decimated and stock fish, fish hatcheries and seagrass bed restoration projects would disappear,” said Gabriel. “It would devastate the community we really rely on.”
NMMA is thankful for their members’ support to make sure the SFRBTF passed, but there isn’t much time for a breather – this issue should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the American Boating Congress in 2015.
Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Morris-Deal Commission
As it stands now, the Magnuson-Stevens Act focuses almost exclusively on the commercial saltwater fishing industry and ignores the needs of the recreational industry. NMMA has lobbied heavily to require the MSA to expand their efforts to all saltwater anglers.
“We feel as though it’s high time that the National Oceanographic Marine Fisheries Service starts to take the saltwater angler into consideration when it sets national, federal saltwater fishing policy,” said Gabriel.
NMMA is working to incorporate a number of objectives into legislation through “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries,” composed by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management. Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and Scott Deal, president and co-founder of Maverick Boats, chair the commission.
Through discussions with a panel of experts on saltwater fishing and fishing policy, they developed six high-level generalities to articulate the needs of the recreational community. The recommendations by the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, currently known as the Morris-Deal Commission, include:
- Establish a national policy for recreational saltwater fishing;
- Adopt a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management;
- Allocate marine fisheries for the greatest benefit to the nation;
- Create reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines;
- Codify a process for cooperative management; and
- Manage for the forage base.
Through the Boating Caucus, which boasts 20 new members this year and includes bipartisan members of the House and Senate with a keen interest in recreational boating issues, NMMA held a briefing to discuss incorporating Morris-Deal Commission points into MSA reauthorization. They feel they have made significant progress through briefings and discussions with a wealth of experts presented before Congress.
“We’ve done a really good job of getting the attention of a lot of different members,” said Gabriel.
The House Committee on Natural Resources introduced HR 4742 – Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, an attempt to deal with MSA reauthorization that NMMA feels “missed the mark” and does not include nearly enough of the objectives important to the industry. The House committee did not take comments from the commercial or recreational fishing communities or from environmentalists.
In the Senate, chairman Mark Begich (D-AK) and ranking member Marco Rubio (R-FL) have engaged actively to incorporate NMMA’s issues into legislation. Rubio introduced the Board of Fisheries Improvement Act independently last week, as Begich is in the middle of a hotly contested re-election and Rubio wanted to keep the issue alive.
Rubio’s bill incorporates substantial pieces of the Morris-Deal Commission with a focus on Florida, though this bill would affect the entire fishing community.
NMMA has also directed outreach from the EPA and is looking to other agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission to educate consumers on E15, higher ethanol fuel blends and the increasing need to communicate appropriate fuel choice.
NMMA is still waiting for the Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) to be set by the EPA for 2014, which were scheduled to be out in January but have been delayed due to a long political process. Much of this is affected by a dead heat re-election race in Iowa, a key state in the ethanol debate.
In the meantime, NMMA has teamed up with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which released the “Look Before You Pump” campaign at retail gas locations, wholesalers and dealer networks. They hope to introduce “Look Before You Pump” to the recreational boating industry soon.
“They [OPEI] have engaged in a really great consumer outreach campaign,” said Nicole Valisaros, director of regulatory and legal affairs for NMMA. “It’s another chance at giving some sort of consumer outreach to say ‘Make sure you check the appropriate fuel before you pump your outdoor power equipment, your boat or even your older cars.’”
Valisaros notes that as E15 is migrating to more states and is cheaper than E10 at many locations, consumer awareness on appropriate fuel choice is critical. NMMA is prepared to push back on any legislation in 2015, as they do not expect an ethanol vote to happen this year.
“We have really been pushing for a cap at E10. That doesn’t mean E15 will not continue to be available but it does mean we will at least hold steady with E10, which is the fuel that our motor engines can use,” said Valisaros. “We will continue to work on all fronts to help slow down or at the very least continue to educate our consumers on the proper fuel choice.”
Slow movement until 2015
The midterm elections are causing numerous pieces of legislation to be tabled for the year while Congress is fighting to maintain or gain majorities. However, there is huge potential in 2015 to push initiatives through, particularly with involvement in the Boating Caucus.
“We are all going to have to stay vigilant as to how we approach the Hill, particularly with respect to any kind of federal legislation that affects us,” said Gabriel. “We do understand that there becomes issue fatigue and we’re going to try and address that.”
If you’re looking to stay engaged, Boating United launched last year and has been very successful. Over 4000 letters were sent to Capitol Hill this year on a variety of key industry issues. You can also attend “Party for a Purpose,” which NMMA will be hosting at IBEX on Tuesday, September 30 from 6-8 p.m.
Gabriel encourages anyone in the recreational boating industry not already engaged in government relations to become involved and aid in the decision-making that affects your way of life.
“You are the best advocate,” said Gabriel. “We don’t get the success that we do for this industry without your input.”