Proposed Right Whale Conservation Measures Need Further Refining

  • A proposed rule to amend the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations would significantly impact many anglers and recreational boaters from Massachusetts to Florida.
  • The recreational angling and boating community fully support efforts to conserve right whales, along with all our marine resources, but were disappointed with the lack of opportunity to provide input on the proposed rule before it was released.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF) joined members of the recreational fishing and boating community on a letter to NOAA Fisheries urging an extension to the comment period so that the unintended consequences of the proposed rule can be further analyzed, and alternative options identified to minimize impacts to anglers and boaters, while ensuring the community’s role in the conservation of right whales.

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 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, some of which seem unjustified. The recreational fishing and boating community are urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the rule’s comment period and allow the community to have an opportunity to provide input on alternatives that could be equally effective for right whale conservation.

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, a new seemingly overly precautionary proposed rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regarding vessel speed reductions along most of the Atlantic Coast will likely have far reaching implications for anglers and boaters.

There are currently several targeted Seasonal Management Areas strategically located in places and during times when right whale presence is expected. Ships greater than 65 feet in length must reduce speed to 10 knots when entering these areas during certain times of year. The current proposed rule would expand the targeted Seasonal Management Areas to Seasonal Speed Zones, which will stretch from Massachusetts to northern Florida for several months of the year and extending out as far as 90 miles offshore. Furthermore, the rule would apply the 10-mph speed limit to vessels 35 feet in length or greater, significantly increasing the number of boats affected.

Unfortunately, NMFS did not work with members of the community on strategies for enhancing right whale conservation during the rule’s development. CSF joined members of the recreational fishing and boating community on a letter asking for an extension to the comment period on the proposed rule to allow for an opportunity to further understand the rule’s implications, as well as provide input on alternatives that would be equally as likely to protect right whales with fewer impacts to the angling and boating community.

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