A New Year Brings New Legislation

The arrival of a pandemic and accompanying boating boom produced a mixed bag on the legislative front for 2020 and going into 2021. While states still grapple with old standbys like AIS and wake surfing, the need for increased safety and infrastructure sparked by more boaters taking to the water are issues that were heightened and will be carried into the new year.

According to David Dickerson, state government director at the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the pandemic meant legislators on the federal and state level were not as active this year as in previous years resulting in fewer new regulations introduced and laws passed that impact the business of boating. There were just more pressing issues.

That didn’t mean that state and national trade associations vacationed through spring and summer. It did mean that walking the halls of government buildings to discuss the nuances of pending bills was replaced by phone calls.

“Members were more available by phone than they usually are. They recognized that good laws need interaction from the people who they effect. They need us as much as we need them,” Dickerson said. He said that in some ways not having to commute into Washington, DC, and appear at legislators’ doors at set times improved the NMMA legislative team’s ability to build relationships with legislators.

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The 2020 work of those monitoring and responding to government actions that impact the marine industry continued with a focus a bit more on existing legislative and regulatory constants than on new issues.

30 By 30
Dickerson reports that at the top of the legislative to-do list on a national scale is the 30 by 30 international movement to create protections for 30% of land and water by 2030. The movement is taking hold on a global scale with a major funding push coming from Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss who pledged a billion dollars over 10 years to reach the 30% goal.

On the U.S. level, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a senate resolution in October 2019 to have the government establish the 30 by 30 goal through making science the foundation of conservation decisions, sequestering carbon and greenhouse gases in U.S. lands and oceans, and addressing environmental justice issues. Action on this front on the federal level has somewhat stalled over the past year, but California has embraced the initiative on a state level and attempted this past year to introduce legislation to have the state protect 30% of its own land and waters.

Dickerson said, that having California step up was not surprising as the state is often at the forefront of environmental movements, and while there has been support for 30 by 30, California’s proposal fell short. “The legislation was loosely written and imprecise. It didn’t define protection. Our (NMMA) worry was that protection could be seen as strict no-take areas essentially cutting off any fishing and boating,” said Dickerson. He further said that recreational fishing is a non-consumptive activity that can fit into a conservation mandate without having to ban it completely.

NMMA worked with its partners in California to lobby the state to go back to the drawing board in writing up a plan for 30 by 30 that better defined required actions. Dickerson is confident that this issue will make a reappearance in California and that it will be high on the agenda of the Biden administration on a federal level. “We want to make sure California gets it right. We created a lot of noise out there over how the legislation was crafted and we hope that will resonate as other states look to put together similar 30 by 30 plans,” he said.

Wake Surfing
Asks to ban or restrict wake surfing are not a new, but as more boats are sold and more people take to the water to seek a pandemic refuge, the issue has become a bit more critical. “We have been aggressively lobbying in five states and every day we hear about another area of concern,” Dickerson said.
The concern is often brought by homeowners whose properties abut a favored wake surfing body of water. The issues are safety on the water, erosion of shorelines, and perceived detriment to water environments.

Homeowners are asking for limits on how close boats can be to shore and for better education for those who are surfing or driving the boats. NMMA supports both of these solutions although maintains a 200-feet distance from shore is usually adequate where in some cases opponents are asking for much further distances. The association bases its arguments for distance from shore on wave analysis of the distance needed in a location to allow waves to dissipate.

NMMA has formed a close partnership with the Water Sports Industry Association to jointly fund and work on programs that raise awareness of courtesy on the water, proper boat handling, and stopping the spread of AIS. Dickerson holds that laws are not the answer for tackling this issue if for no other reason than there are few on the water to enforce laws. He likens the wake surfing issue to the early uprising against jet skis. The approach for jet skis was to institute mandatory lifejacket wear, classes, and training for rentals. He sees similar successful results from this type of outreach to wake surfers.

The wake surfing challenge is not only with disputes from homeowners. More wake boats on the water means an increased chance of spreading AIS. Here again, wide-spread efforts at educating boat owners about proper prevention is crucial as is the funding needed to develop and run such programs.

Dickerson says a big problem with funding is in states that have water bodies that cross borders. He cites Tennessee and Kentucky where one state is infected with Asian Carp and one isn’t yet. One state is actively working to stop the spread while the other is not. There is also the problem of convincing state legislators in states where recreation is more focused on hunting in the mountains than fishing in lakes, to spend the money to combat AIS. Part of the advocacy this year will be on educating state legislators on the impact AIS can have on its waters and economy.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?
Another repercussion from the boom in boating is that more boats increases the chance of accidents. Nationally boat sales are up 9%. In Florida alone they’re up 19%. The surge in new boaters combined with existing boaters spending more time on the water has greatly increased on-water fatalities this past year essentially wiping out a 10 year downswing. The NMMA is working with states that don’t have mandatory boater education to adopt it and encouraging the industry as a whole to champion education.

Along with a decrease in safety, is also a decrease in adequate access. More boats mean fewer slips available at marinas, and longer lines at boat ramps. While experienced boaters may understand the need to be patient and wait your turn at the ramp, newcomers might not be so forgiving. “We want to do everything to make it so new boaters continue to be excited. Long lines to get on the water could hurt that,” Dickerson said. He continued that the industry deserves more investment in infrastructure and we need to make sure monies from the newly passed Outdoors Act will be used for maintenance and upkeep of parks but be targeted towards boating infrastructures.

The change in who will be residing in the White House and the West Wing is not anticipated to bring much change to the industry in the next year. No one is looking towards a renewal of the luxury tax that pulled the rug out from under the marine industry in 1991 nor for any sweeping changes to the Clean Water Act or Oceans Protection Act that could cause a slew of regulations. Instead, states will remain where any changes take place meaning it might be a good time to renew that trade association membership.