Federal government’s slow-speed zones would have severe negative impacts on East Coast boating and fishing. Rushed revisions to the Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule are the most consequential maritime regulations the industry has ever faced. Demand that NOAA put the proposed rule on pause.
(New Gretna, New Jersey, September 21, 2022)—A rushed proposed rule to implement 10-knot speed restrictions for boats 35 feet and larger from Massachusetts to Florida could devastate the entire marine industry and cripple America’s outdoor economy.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is proposing amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule to reduce the likelihood of vessel strikes. The federal rule would broaden the current 10-knot speed limit to include boats 35 feet and larger (down from 65 feet); expand the zones from discrete calving areas to virtually the entire East Coast as far out as 100 nautical miles; and extend the go-slow mandate for up to seven months a year.
“The proposed rule, as written, would be the most consequential maritime regulation that we have ever seen imposed on the recreational boating and fishing sector,” says John DePersenaire, Director of Government Affairs and Sustainability for Viking Yachts. “It will affect not only boat owners but marinas, tackle shops, charter boat operators – basically all maritime-related businesses on the Atlantic Coast.”
Adds Viking President and CEO Pat Healey: “This would be a devastating regulatory mandate. Right whale vessel strikes have just not been an issue for our industry. This is a classic example of government overreach.”
The proposed rule was published without any engagement with the recreational boating and fishing community. “We had heard talk of a proposal but were never directly contacted in any way,” says DePersenaire. “This is important because the proposed rule imposes excessive and unnecessary negative impacts on our community as a direct response of NOAA single-handedly putting forward regulations without public input. Moreover, the proposed mandate would force thousands of recreational boats to operate at a speed that compromises their maneuverability and overall safety at sea.”
The proposal was published on Aug. 1, 2022. Viking immediately requested a 30-day extension to the public comment period. “Viking Yachts is completely sensitive to the status and outlook of the North Atlantic right whale population,” Healey wrote to NOAA. “The health of the ocean and all its life is of paramount importance to our company and boat owners. However, we believe the magnitude of the proposed rule warrants careful consideration to ensure that a practical, enforceable and realistic plan is put forward to address the right whale population.”
A letter from a broad coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations was also presented to NOAA, who has since extended the public comment period to October 31. “Now that we have the extension, we really need to turn up the volume and make sure our voices are heard,” said Healey. “Everyone needs to rally – yacht clubs, marinas, fishing clubs, charter boat associations. This is a huge deal that not many people know about.”
How to Help
The primary way to voice your concerns about the amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule is via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Click here to comment. You can also provide comments through various boating and fishing groups, such as the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Boating United group: click here, and through the International Game Fish Association: click here.
All comments will be read and considered, according to NOAA’s Office of Protected Species, which advises participants to supply specific information about how the rule would impact their boating and fishing activities or business. You can also make suggestions for changes to the rule. The purpose in crafting these amendments is to ensure that the North Atlantic right whales are protected and do not go into extinction while placing as little burden on the mariner as possible, according to NOAA.
Given the limited amount of time for the public to weigh in on these rule changes, “it’s critical that you immediately contact your member of Congress and ask that they demand NOAA to put the proposed rule on pause,” says DePersenaire. “The additional time can be used to develop measures that seek balance between the needs of the right whale and our industry. Congress also needs to know that the rule has far-reaching implications beyond our sport. It will disrupt shipping and ports and exacerbate supply-chain issues and inflation.”
The facts do not support the sweeping changes being proposed by NOAA. Since 1998 – 24 years – there have been 24 known right whale vessel strikes across 10 states. Of those, eight were attributed to boats from 35 to 65 feet.
“In our 58-year history, with more than 5,000 boats delivered, we have never had a report of our boats having an encounter with a right whale,” says Healey. “And we would know because it would cause significant damage that would be repairable only by us.”
The odds of a vessel from 35 to 65 feet striking a right whale are less than one in a million, according to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).
“The bottom line is this is far too consequential of an issue for it to be developed and implemented unilaterally with no meaningful input from our industry or the public,” adds DePersenaire. “Many of these impacts could have been eliminated or significantly reduced – while still reducing risks of vessel strikes – by working with fishermen and boaters.”
For an in-depth analysis and more information about the issue, please click here for an ASA podcast featuring an interview on the subject with DePersenaire.