Anyone who owns a boat in Marina del Rey this time of year knows that the water temperatures have risen and with them the length of the lawn growing on the bottom of the boat.

Most divers in the harbor have all they can handle with clients that are now using their boats on a regular basis, many of whom have upped their service from once a month to twice to combat the growth that accumulates on the underbellies of their pride and joy.

On the East Coast, bottom paint doesn’t seem to be quite as important an issue, since many mariners haul their boats out every year for a long winter on the concrete. But here in sunny Southern California, where the weather stays boating-suitable year round, divers and bottom paint are something mariners tend to consider with more attention – and right now they’re being asked to delve into the issue from a more political and environmental perspective.

The California State Senate is about to consider a bill that, if passed, will ban copper-based antifouling paint for recreational boats. Last month, Washington became the first state to ban copper-based bottom paint on recreational boats (vessels under 65 feet).

As currently written, California Senate Bill 623 includes provisions that:

After Jan. 1, 2015: prohibit the sale of new recreational boats with copper bottom paint; and

After Jan. 1, 2019: prohibit the use or application of antifouling paint containing copper on recreational boats.

Through the years, environmental groups have been concerned with what gets applied to the bottom of vessels – scrutinizing closely what is being slowly wiped away with the abrasive scrubbing implements of dive services everywhere. What they see is essentially a pesticide that is inevitably destined to find its way into the sediment of the marine environment – an obvious pollution they believe needs to be corrected. However, like so many environmental issues, it seems to become more complicated as the layers get peeled back.

“We don’t have an identified product that works as well, so in this case, the cure might be worse than the problem,” said Greg Schem, owner of The Boat Yard in Marina del Rey. “Sure, we’re curing the copper from coming off of the bottom paint and doing whatever it does, but we’re causing boaters to haul out more frequently, which will raise the cost of boating significantly and increase the carbon footprint.”

Schem points out that if boats are being hauled out more, boatyards will be using more diesel and resources. He also raised the question of an increase in invasive species as a result of the ban and wonders if the science, as it exists today, justifies the removal of something as ubiquitous as copper-based paints.

More than a decade ago the chemical agent TBT was banned from bottom paints and at the time, the environmental organization Greenpeace wrote an article advocating copper as one viable substitute:

“An alternative that has been on the market for a long time, already before TBT was introduced, is copper-based anti-fouling paint. Copper is less harmful to the marine environment compared to TBT and is proposed as [an] intermediate alternative by most International Maritime Organization related countries,” the organization wrote.

This excerpt speaks to the concern of Schem and others to not be hasty with such a major ban. Many are asking the state to be more diligent in its gathering and soliciting of science and research before implementing something they say might not be tried and tested.

“Bringing new products to market takes significant lead time and money,” BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich said.

“How do we know there will be alternatives that are effective and affordable by the bill’s deadline? We recognize that there are many opinions about this bill, and encourage boaters to contact your state senator to express your own views. We support innovation in antifouling paint and we hope that sustainable solutions for boaters and the environment can be found.”

Within the context of the bill it states:

“Boating is an important part of the economic and social fabric of California. California has approximately 800,000 recreational boats and more than three million people who participate in recreational boating annually. These boaters contribute $1.2 billion to the state’s Gross State Product and have a direct impact on over 24,000 jobs with labor income of $750 million.”

Because of the substantial fiscal impact recreational boating has on the state, advocates implore both legislators and environmentalists to be certain that these types of propositions are logical, viable and indeed necessary.

“It just seems to me that there’s a lot of things that haven’t been thought through.” Schem said of the legislation. “I’m all for solving problems but only if you have a solution.”

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