June 5, 2023

House Subcommittee to Hold Oversight Hearing on Proposed Vessel Speed Rule

Article Contact: Chris Horton,

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 new 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. On June 6, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries will explore the genesis of the proposed rule, its implications and other alternatives during an oversight hearing.


  • A proposed rule to amend the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations 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.
  • As proposed, the rule presents significant implications for offshore access for recreational anglers, potential economic ramifications for the charter fishing and maritime industries, and safety at sea concerns.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries will hold an oversight hearing on June 6 to highlight the proposed rule’s challenges and explore other alternatives to protecting North Atlantic right whales.

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 strikes by large vessels. While there is less than 1 in 1,000,000 chance a recreational fishing vessel between 35 and 64 feet in length will fatally strike a North Atlantic right whale based on data over the last 15 years, the fishing and boating community fully supports efforts to conserve right whales and would gladly slow down to avoid whales when their presence is known. 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 presents significant challenges for angling and boating access and coastal economies.

Seasonal speed restrictions for vessels 65 feet and longer already exist around the busiest ports in the whale’s home range, yet NMFS reports that compliance and enforcement are an issue with the existing regulations. The proposed expansion of speed zones beyond busy ports to cover the east coast from Massachusetts to north Florida in its entirety and the inclusion of vessels 35 feet and longer, caught many by surprise when it was published in the federal register last August. Neither the recreational or commercial fishing community, nor boat manufacturing or maritime industries, were consulted during the development of the proposed rule. The recreational fishing and boating communities feel that NMFS missed an opportunity to partner with the private sector in identifying more viable solutions for North Atlantic right whale conservation, like real-time monitoring and vessel technologies, that can assist with whale avoidance.

On June 6, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries will hold an oversight hearing to explore the proposed rule’s development, implications for access and coastal economies, and potential alternatives. In advance of the hearing, CSF submitted testimony for the record, highlighting concerns with the rule, the lack of evidence to support the rule, and encouraging a different path forward.

CSF has been supporting 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.

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