2021 Recap: NACO Presidents Message

As all know the past couple of years have been trying at best. Aside from all the normal issues that affect all of us in our daily lives and business operations the COVID issue has dramatically affected us all and is still ongoing. As we near 2022 I wish to provide some positive actions NACO has been able to accomplish during this time that gives us reason to celebrate the coming holiday season and coming year.

NACO, along with our other passenger vessel association partners, worked on the USCG legislative issue because of the tragic Conception dive boat accident. We were able to provide industry input into the proposed legislation and eliminate most of the proposed requirements that would have created excessive regulatory requirements and extra expense on all our operations. Even though this legislation targeted USCG certificated vessels it also would have, and the minimal requirements still contained will, affect all passenger carrying vessels, especially any that conduct overnight trips. We were successful in having the legislation mitigated from its original draft which helped to eliminate more restrictions and costs to our industry. This is a major win for NACO.

NACO worked with many Congressional leaders on many issues of the CARES Act to provide financial help to small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors. While all were not able to receive benefits from these programs, many did, and they were helped to get thru this economic nightmare. We were also able to work with the Commerce Department on financial relief for for hire vessels across the country. We were first to discover that for hire vessels in the Great Lakes region were left out of the funding program and immediately contacted the entire Great Lakes Congressional delegation to work to add them or develop separate legislation to address their needs.

The Lakes delegation crafted communications with Commerce and worked on legislation to provide financial aid to those in the Lakes region. While financial relief was not fast coming, relief was provided. While no financial assistance provides 100% of the losses what is provided hopefully helped those in need.

NACO worked with Congress on a supplemental disaster relief package that was eventually approved and provided additional relief to some. While the current federal disaster relief system is clearly flawed in many ways, especially the lack of providing relief in a timely fashion, we have been collaborating with several key legislators on a bill that would work to help fishermen on a faster pace. We continue to work on this issue.

We recently provided information to our Great Lakes members about an effort by the GL legislative delegation to work with the Canadians to mitigate their effort to create a nuclear waste repository in the GL basin. This will threaten the drinking water of over 40 million people. We will be working with the GL delegation and others to convince the Canadians to stop this project.

All operators fishing along the coast of the U. S. experience issues with marine mammals and in many areas with sharks. In most cases predation by these animals is a severe problem creating safety issues for passengers and crews, loss of fish being caught, and harm to the marine mammals. Our efforts have reached out all areas of the Department of Commerce, the Marine Mammal Commission, the Council for Environmental Quality, an Office directly under the President, and folks with the NMFS. Our efforts resulted in the issuance of a Federal Register Notice seeking public input on recommendations on how to reduce the interactions with marine mammals. The NMFS will be issuing recommended guidelines in the coming months to address this serious issue and they have begun research efforts to further investigate the problems.

In addition, members from Maine through Texas are experiencing ever increasing predation from the expanded populations of sharks. We now know that all sectors, for hire charter, commercial fishermen, and private recreational anglers have been adversely affected and all groups are now working together to have the NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division, they regulate all sharks, address this problem of increased shark populations in this wide area. We have been able to have fishermen from different sectors who historically work against one another now work together on a common problem.

Under our new Administration many Executive Orders and new legislation have been executed that could create adverse management and regulatory issues for all across the country. The 30 x 30 initiative is a fast-moving issue and our work with the National Ocean Policy will hopefully be successful in preventing more fishery area closure. The 30 x 30 initiative, if implemented, will close 30% of all our waters to fishing, in many cases boating, and more. NACO is an active partner with the NOPC and we work together on many issues.

For our members who fish for Highly Migratory Species in the Atlantic and Gulf we were able to work with the HMS Division of NMFS to create a special HMS endorsement that allows those folks to sell some species such as yellow fin tuna as long as they comply with the USCG commercial fishing equipment regulations. This prevented all HMS species permitted vessels from having to comply with the commercial regs. This helped to eliminate costs and regulatory requirements for a majority of HMS recreational permit holders.

As all may know the marine insurance industry has undergone serious consolidation due to massive claims due storm damage, vessel fires, sinkings, all of which have resulted in loss of life and vessels. Some marine insurance agencies have lost their underwriters due to the underwriters no longer writing policies. We are extremely fortunate to have Gallagher Charter Lakes as our marine insurance provider as their underwriter continues to be strong and supportive.

As all can see NACO continues to work for you to reduce regulatory burdens, excessive financial burdens, and to provide benefits for all. We are constantly working on USCG, Fishery, and other regulatory agencies issues to reduce burdens and costs and to keep all informed of any proposed changes. We look forward to 2022 and hopefully a year that will be far more productive than 2021 and with far less medical and financial issues. NACO continues to work for the for-hire charter industry, and we look forward to continuing our work. We hope all enjoy a safe and healthy Holiday Season and we give thanks for all those who have survived these trying times.

Capt. Bob Zales, II