Recreational fishing and boating community opposes boat speed restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico and calls for collaboration to conserve Rice’s whales

Yesterday, the major organizations representing recreational fishing and boating in the United States urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to deny a petition to set a year-round speed limit of 10 knots (11 mph) and other measures related to vessels. in the “core” habitat area of ​​Rice’s whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

The petitioners ask NOAA to use its authority under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to establish a “Vessel Deceleration Zone” from approximately Pensacola, Florida to south of Tampa to protect the newly discovered Rice’s whale. In addition to the mandatory 11 mph speed limit for all vessels transiting the proposed zone, the petition proposes the following additional restrictions:

  • No ship transits at night;
  • Vessels transiting the area must report their plans to NOAA, use trained visual observers, and maintain a 500m separation distance from Rice’s whales;
  • Use and operate an Automatic Identification System, or notify NOAA of transits through the area, and
  • Report any non-compliance to NOAA within 24 hours.

There is no evidence that a Rice whale has ever been struck by a recreational vessel.

“As more is learned about the recently discovered Rice’s whale, it is critical that NOAA focus early on collaborating with stakeholders rather than jumping into drastic restrictions,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Association of Sport fishing. “As an industry that cares deeply about the conservation of the marine environment, the recreational fishing and boating industry is ready, willing and able to help develop solutions to support whale conservation. Relying on massive speed restrictions that effectively shut down shipping and fishing is not a viable path for the Rice Whale or the economy.”

“Once again, proponents of boat speed restrictions act as if small recreational craft are the same as large cargo ships. They’re not,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Sportfishing Policy Center. “We invite NOAA to join us in identifying 21st century technological advances that can help tell boaters where the whales are rather than effectively prohibit public access to America’s marine waters.”

“The recreational fishing and boating community is committed to protecting marine wildlife and ensuring that our precious waters are safe for wildlife, including Rice’s Whales and boaters alike. A blanket approach, such as speed restrictions on vessels covering large swaths of the Gulf, will do little to address the protection of the Rice Whale population and put recreational boaters, fishermen, and communities that depend on economic activity at risk. of these industries,” said Frank Hugelmeyer. , President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “As NOAA considers its next steps to address the recovery and protection of the Rice Whale, the shipping and fishing industry looks forward to working together with the agency and all affected stakeholders to determine a holistic approach to protect this vulnerable species while access is maintained along the Gulf. Coast.”

“As conservationists, we understand the need to mitigate the negative impacts on the population of Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico, but any reasonable solution must include a set of measured responses that can achieve a realistic goal,” said Bill Bird, president of Coastal Conservation. National Committee of Government Relations of the Association. “The proposed vessel speed restrictions off Florida and Alabama are not only draconian, but also unlikely to work, and may be proposed for larger and larger areas of the Gulf as more is learned about it. new species. What is needed here is a rational plan that uses technology solutions with input from all stakeholders. We stand ready to assist as NOAA evaluates a rational response to address these challenges.”

In summary, the groups recommend that NOAA not take any regulatory action based on the petition for the following reasons:

  • The petitioners present no evidence that recreational boats pose a risk to Rice whales that justifies the important rules proposed in the petition.
  • The petition does not propose actions to address the major sources of mortality for the Rice Whale.
  • NOAA has not engaged with the recreational fishing and boating industry in planning for the recovery of Rice Whales or to better understand how their vessels may interact with Rice Whales.
  • NOAA needs to fully investigate and report on the likelihood of recovering the Rice Whales given documented concerns about their population size.

Rather than proceed with the rulemaking request, NOAA should:

  • Work with partners to address knowledge gaps about this rarely observed species to inform future recovery planning and strategies.
  • Allow the recreational fishing and boating industry to contribute significantly to Rice’s whale recovery plan.
  • Develop a recovery implementation strategy with input from all Gulf of Mexico stakeholders.

The issue of vessel speed restrictions was recently the subject of a congressional hearing on the impacts of NOAA’s proposed changes to the North Atlantic Whaling Strike Reduction Rule. Affected stakeholders from the $230 billion recreational fishing and boating industry testified about the devastating impacts NOAA’s flawed rule would have on businesses, jobs, and coastal recreation along the Atlantic seaboard. As a result of numerous stakeholder concerns about NOAA’s lack of commitment prior to rulemaking, US Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), introduced the bipartisan proposal. Whale Protection, Human Security and Economy Act of 2023 to prohibit NOAA from issuing a rule modifying or superseding the North Atlantic right whale vessel strike reduction regulation until technological solutions recently authorized by Congress can help better track whales and avoid strikes.

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The American Sport Fishing Association (ASA) is the trade association for the sport fishing industry committed to representing the interests of the sport fishing and boating industries, as well as the entire sport fishing community. We provide the industry and anglers with a unified voice when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect the sport fishing business or sport fishing itself. ASA invests in companies for the long term to ensure the industry remains strong and prosperous, as well as to safeguard and promote the enduring economic, conservation, and social values ​​of America’s sport fishing. ASA also gives America’s 55 million fishermen a voice in political decisions that affect their ability to fish sustainably in our nation’s waterways through Keep America Fishing, our national fisherman advocacy campaign. America’s fishermen generate more than $50 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating jobs for 825,000 people.