(KRON) — The Richardson Bay Regional Agency’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to reinstate the vessel buyback program to help incentivize boaters to move off environmentally sensitive waters.

Originally adopted in June 2022, the Vessel Buyback Program offers money based on the length of their boat ($150 per foot) to move vessels off an established Eelgrass Protection Zone and other parts of Richardson Bay. An agreement reached between the RBRA and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission calls for removal of all illegally anchored vessels from Richardson Bay by 2026.

Rather than relying on enforcement to remove vessels, the Vessel Buyback Program incentivizes vessel or floating homeowners to transfer their property to the RBRA.

As the RBRA moves forward with a new Temporary Housing Support Program, it is also restarting the Vessel Buyback Program to assist boat dwellers with moving off the water.

“The original vessel buyback program demonstrated that the RBRA and boat owners could work together on collaborative solutions to benefit Richardson Bay,” said RBRA Chair Stephanie Moulton-Peters. “As we move forward with the next phase of transitioning individuals into housing on land, we want to make sure that they are fairly compensated for that transition.”

When the Vessel Buyback Program first began in June 2022, there were 69 vessels and floating homes anchored in Richardson Bay in violation of RBRA regulations, which stipulates all boats have a maximum allowable stay of 72 hours.

“The Vessel Buyback Program helps protect the delicate environment of Richardson Bay while also providing financial and logistical support for residents looking to relocate off the waters,” said RBRA Executive Director Brad Gross. “It’s a respectful and cooperative process that helps make Richardson Bay safer, more accessible and more secure for everyone.”

There are now 52 remaining vessels and floating homes anchored in Richardson Bay, a significant reduction attributed in large part to the buyback program. Still, the overwhelming majority of remaining vessels are located in the EPZ, which was established to protect the eelgrass ecosystem.

Agency officials wrote, “Eelgrass is a foundational element of Richardson Bay. It protects the Bay from the impacts of climate change, reduces erosion, stabilizes the shoreline and acts as a critical support function for local fisheries, waterbirds, harbor porpoises, sea lions and other marine creatures. Anchors, chains, and other ground tackle scrape along the bay bottom, acting like a lawn mower for all plants living there. This creates ‘crop circles,’ or barren areas where no eelgrass can grow. There is a large area of Richardson Bay without eelgrass cover that has been designated for boat anchorage.”

Under a pact between two agencies overseeing Richardson Bay in southern Marin County, only seaworthy vessels will be allowed to anchor on a temporary basis in the bay after October 2026.