Bipartisan Group of State Legislators Urge NOAA to Reevaluate Right Whale Rule

  • The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently proposed a rule to amend the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations that would require boats 35 feet and longer to limit their speed to 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.
  • Unfortunately, anglers and boaters were not given an opportunity to provide input during the development of the proposed rule, and NOAA significantly underestimated the economic and cultural impacts the rule, if implemented, will have on Atlantic Coast communities.
  • Coordinated by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), bipartisan leaders from ten state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses in the affected states submitted a comment letter to NMFS asking them to reconsider the proposed rule with the assistance of the angling and boating community and find alternative solutions that both minimize impacts to anglers and boaters while ensuring effective protections for right whales.

Why It Matters:  Recreational and commercial fishing is an essential part of the cultural and economic fabric of coastal towns all along the Atlantic seaboard. However, a new rule regarding vessel speed reductions over large areas along much of the Atlantic seaboard threatens that cultural heritage. Bipartisan leaders from ten state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses expressed concerns with the rule and urged NMFS to allow the recreational fishing and boating community a seat at the table to provide equally effective right whale protection alternatives other than the proposed blanket speed zone along much of the coast.

On October 31, leaders from ten state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses along the Atlantic submitted a bipartisan comment letter urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to delay moving forward with a proposed rule that would implement massive slow-speed zones for boats 35 feet and longer from Massachusetts to Florida in an attempt to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. As CSF previously reported, anglers and boaters fully support efforts to conserve right whales, but the overly precautionary proposed rule will have significant, negative impacts on coastal communities while affording little additional protection for right whales.

The bipartisan group of state legislators expressed concerns with the substantial impact of the proposed vessel speed rule on the ability of anglers and boaters to venture offshore for much of the year, the potential for problems with safety at sea, the unlikelihood the rule will provide measurable benefits to right whale conservation, and the lack of overall stakeholder engagement by the agency leading up to the proposed rule. They urged NMFS to delay moving forward with this rule until new alternatives could be developed in collaboration with the recreational fishing and boating industry.

The letter went on to express concerns this proposed rule, if implemented, will have on the recreational charter fishing industry and non-boat owners. Atlantic Coast charter fishing businesses provide thousands of non-boat owners an opportunity to access their marine resources each year. The proposed 10-knot maximum speed limit extending 40 to 90 miles offshore will considerably extend travel times to the fishing grounds, reduce available fishing time, and prohibit safe access to productive fishing areas for much of the year, likely resulting in many canceled trips.

The legislators emphasized their full support of efforts to conserve the North Atlantic right whale but implored NMFS to work with stakeholders to determine if conservation objectives could be achieved with less restrictive measures.

The comment period closed on October 31 with over 40,000 comments received. NMFS will evaluate and respond to those comments in the coming months, hopefully pausing the rule to allow anglers and boaters to provide better solutions.

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