California environmental officials, fed up with an Oxnard company they say is dumping waste water laden with scummy squid parts into Port Hueneme Harbor, announced Thursday they have levied a $19,900 fine against Sun Coast Calamari.
The fine is believed to be the first ever imposed on a fishing company for a water pollution infraction in California. It comes fives weeks after inspectors warned five squid boat operators at the port that they were in violation of water quality laws and declared the dumping activity a nuisance.
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on Nov. 24 directed the companies to immediately cease discharging wastes or face hefty fines.
The harbor is the only commercial seaport between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Local businesses complained of dead squid, frothy waste water and inky residue the fishing boats flush into the port. The discharges boost ammonia concentrations and reduce oxygen in the water, posing a threat to marine life.
“We are taking this problem very seriously and have put this company and others on notice that these kinds of water-quality violations will not and cannot be tolerated,” said Dennis Dickerson, executive officer for the regional board. ‘We have tried and will continue to encourage those in the squid industry to follow best management practices and to be proactive in protecting the marine environment.”
The fine by the water board, a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency, signals a tougher enforcement posture against squid fishermen operating off the Southern California coast. Squid fishing fleets based in Ventura, San Pedro and Terminal Island are also under increasing scrutiny. Dickerson warned additional penalties could be imposed if the dumping continues.
“This appears to be a first. It’s the first time a fine has been levied against a fishing company” for a pollution violation, said Fran Vitulli, spokeswoman for the California Water Resources Control Board office in Sacramento.
Officials for Sun Coast Calamari reached Thursday declined to comment on the matter. The company can challenge the fine by appealing to the governing board of the water quality agency, though it is unclear whether the firm will exercise that option.
A public hearing on the issue is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 26 in Pasadena at the agency’s next regular meeting.
Sun Coast Calamari operates six vessels, part of a fishing industry that has about 200 boats deployed around the Channel Islands this winter in search of huge schools of palm-sized squid.
Squid fishing is good these days--one boat can hold about 40 tons of squid, valued at $10,000, from a single night’s catch--ranking it among California’s most lucrative commercial fishing ventures.
According to documents compiled by the water quality board, pollution allegedly caused by the squid boats at Port Hueneme first surfaced Oct. 27. Channel Islands Oceans Farms, an aquaculture company, and Channel Islands Marine Resources Institute alerted the board about poor water conditions in the harbor.
State inspectors who visited the port Oct. 28 noticed inky, discolored water, rafts of floating foam and dead squid in the area where the fishing vessels unloaded their cargo.
At a Nov. 1 meeting, the fishermen and regulators agreed upon strategies to reduce waste water discharges from the squid boats. But water tests taken shortly after showed pollution had not diminished, the records show.
As a result, state regulators on Nov. 24 issued violation notices to five companies: Sun Coast Calamari, Monterey Fish Co., Del Mar Seafood, Sea Products and Southern California Seafood.
The notice directed the companies to cease their dumping practices immediately or face fines up to $5,000 per day of violation. Several options were offered to help the companies cut waste discharges, including recycling waste water, disposal to sewer lines or dumping it three miles offshore.
Tony Franco, who unloads squid for the Monterey Fish Co., said Thursday most of the companies have complied with the order. Water quality inspectors made the same observation following a Dec. 9 inspection.
“We cleaned up our act and we’re now storing 97% of our waste water. We did what we had to do and everybody’s working on it,” Franco said.
State regulators, however, reported that Sun Coast Calamari continued to discharge waste water into the harbor from its boats and offloading operations in early December.
A review of logs kept by the company and harbor officials showed discharges occurred five times between Dec. 2 and 9. Based on that information, the company faced fines up to $25,000, though the water quality board reduced that amount, in part, because the company had no previous violations, the records show.