Why It Matters: The recreational boating and fishing community understands the importance of protecting North Atlantic right whales and fully supports efforts to do so. However, a proposed rule regarding vessel speed reductions along much of the Atlantic seaboard will have significant implications for offshore anglers and boaters at certain times of the year. Fortunately, Congress recently authorized a new large whale monitoring and mitigation program that will provide for real-time monitoring of whale locations and an opportunity to implement mitigation measures that are much more realistic and likely to result in better whale conservation than the proposed speed rule currently before NOAA. However, to realize the benefits of the new pilot program for both whales and anglers, it must be funded through the appropriations process.
- The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration is in the process of instituting a proposed rule to amend the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations. Specifically, the proposed rule would require boats 35 feet and longer to go no more than 10 knots from the shoreline to as far as 90 miles offshore for up to seven months of the year. The proposed slow speed zone stretches from Massachusetts to Florida.
- Fortunately, Congress authorized a large whale monitoring and mitigation pilot program in the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in December, and would implement technologies to avoid the need for a draconian blanket speed rule that will do little for whale conservation.
- CSF will be advocating for federal funding of the large whale monitoring program authorized under the NDAA in the FY 24 appropriations cycle as a solution for whale conservation and angling and boating access to the Atlantic Ocean.
The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species in need of conservation, and several efforts in recent years have sought to avoid or minimize human-induced right whale mortality, primarily entanglement in commercial fishing gear and vessel strikes. The fishing and boating community fully supports efforts to conserve right whales and recognize the role they have to play in their recovery. However, the draconian, overly precautionary proposed rule under consideration by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to implement a 10 knot speed limit over vast swaths of the Atlantic ocean for vessels 35 feet and longer will do little to truly address whale conservation needs while serving as a significant and unnecessary hurdle for angling and boating access.
Fortunately, Sec. 11303 of the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (Public Law 117-263) authorized the deployment of a cost-effective, efficient, and results-oriented near real-time monitoring and mitigation program for threatened or endangered whales. The purpose of the program is to reduce the risk of vessel collisions with whales by monitoring where whales are and alerting vessels that may be in the area. The program was authorized at $5 million annually but funding for this specific program was not appropriated in FY 23.
The recreational fishing and boating community full supports the funding and implementation of this pilot program, and called for a similar approach in our comments to NMFS on the proposed rule, as it provides a genuine solution for both Atlantic whale conservation and access to our Atlantic fisheries resources for millions of American’s. CSF will be actively advocating for this program in the FY 24 appropriations cycle.