Whale strike reduction rule moves forward

Published On: March 12, 2024Categories: Industry News, News

The United States Department of Commerce has advanced the North Atlantic right whale (NARW) Vessel Strike Reduction Rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Proposed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the rule would restrict vessels greater than or equal to 35 feet (10.7 m) and less than 65 feet (19.8 m) in length to 10 knots (roughly 11 mph) along much of the Eastern Seaboard during the whales’ migration and calving season.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) claims this rule could put more than 810,000 American jobs and nearly $230 billion in economic contributions in jeopardy.

“We are extremely disappointed and alarmed to see this economically catastrophic and deeply flawed rule proceed to these final stages,” says Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the NMMA. “The proposed rule is based on incorrect assumptions and questionable data, and fails to distinguish between large, ocean-crossing vessels and small recreational boats, which could not be more different from each other. Most concerning, the proposed rule ignores the advanced marine technologies available now that can better protect the North Atlantic right whale and prevent vessel strikes.”

“The solution has been, and always will be, to use technology to track and protect the whales – not to deny access to our oceans,” says Pat Healey, president and CEO of the Viking Yacht Company, the New Jersey boatbuilder that has helped fuel the industry’s opposition to the 10-knot restriction. “We’ve made tremendous strides through marine electronics already through the Whale and Vessel Safety Taskforce. NOAA should be leaning on us for solutions because this is our field of expertise. The ocean is our livelihood, and no one cares more about it than boat owners and anglers.”

According to the NOAA Fisheries website, “changes to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) vessel speed regulations will further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions, which are a leading cause of the species’ decline and a primary factor in an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event. The proposed rule would: 1) modify the spatial and temporal boundaries of current speed restriction areas, currently referred to as Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs), 2) include most vessels greater than or equal to 35 ft (10.7 m) and less than 65 ft (19.8 m) in length in the vessel size class subject to speed restriction, 3) create a Dynamic Speed Zone framework to implement mandatory speed restrictions when whales are known to be present outside active SMAs, and 4) update the speed rule’s safety deviation provision. Changes to the speed regulations are proposed to reduce vessel strike risk based on a coast wide collision mortality risk assessment and updated information on right whale distribution, vessel traffic patterns, and vessel strike mortality and serious injury events. Changes to the existing vessel speed regulation are essential to stabilize the ongoing right whale population decline and prevent the species’ extinction.”

In November, members of Congress and staff heard from representatives of the boating and fishing community about the economic impacts the proposed rule will have. The movement of the draft rule to OMB represents the last step of the finalization of the rule.