Guest editorial: Future of local passenger sportfishing and whale watching boats uncertain

by Ken Franke

Guest editorial: Future of local passenger sportfishing and whale watching boats uncertain
Jaime Diamond and Joe Villareal

September 8, 2021

For as long as most people can remember, local passenger sportfishing, whale watching and eco-tourism boats have been introducing Californians to the Channel Islands, drawing thousands of visitors a year to our coastline.

However, this could soon change. The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the region’s tourism and hospitality industry, reducing visitor spending and erasing years of economic gain. Fortunately, family-owned boat businesses such as ours have been able to sustain operations. However, there is a looming threat to our livelihood that will achieve what COVID-19 did not — put us out of business.

Even though boat owners have been proactively reducing emissions by repowering their engines to the cleanest marine engines on the market today, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a board appointed by Governor Newsom, has proposed engine emission regulations that require technology not developed for commercial passenger vessels, nor deemed safe at sea.

What’s more, CARB concluded that the modifications they require are not structurally safe for some types of boats, leading them to conclude that “vessel replacement will be likely, especially the categories with wood or fiberglass vessels.” This is a stunning admission, for more than 80% of all passenger sportfishing and whale watching boats are made from these materials.

So, CARB has concluded that boat owners like us should be mandated to build new boats as soon as 2023, which would at least double the cost of passenger tickets. Our existing boats will be deemed illegal and have no resale value. Even in the best of times, no small business can have their most valuable asset made worthless and then be told to go find an additional loan to rebuild their business.

Then there are the unresolved safety issues. CARB’s regulations require engines to have equipment installed that has not been thoroughly tested at sea. It is common for this type of equipment on trucks and farm equipment to create significant heat and severe back pressure on engines. Blocked exhaust systems may be manageable on land, but not at sea. Passengers could be adrift at sea for hours as boat crews try to recover the system. The worst-case scenario of a failed engine would risk the lives of passengers and crew.

So, there you have it. Bureaucrats in Sacramento have designed regulations that are so unfeasible that boat owners will go out of business and those who don’t, will have a difficult job ahead to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew. The collateral damage will be the many Californians denied access to offshore fishing and whale watching — a treasured source of outdoor recreation, marine education and economic activity.

We need your help and the support of our state legislators and local representatives. No one in Sacramento appears to be listening. Please help keep ocean access affordable and save the many families that operate local sportfishing and whale watching boats by joining our petition at

Jaime Diamond is the owner of Stardust Sportfishing in Santa Barbara. Joe Villareal is the owner of Mirage Sportfishing in Oxnard.

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