Vessel speed restrictions will cripple coastal communities and fail to protect right whales

Recreational fishing and boating community cites flaws in Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule, asks agency to pause, get it right

Yesterday, major organizations representing recreational fishing and boating in the United States urged the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to pause its proposed North Atlantic Right Whaling Vessel Strike Reduction Rule. , citing numerous significant flaws in the proposal. The proposed rule would expand the current speed restriction of 10 knots (11.5 mph) to include vessels 35 feet and larger (previously 65 feet); expand slow march zones from discrete calving areas to essentially the entire Atlantic coast up to 90 miles, and extend these zone restrictions up to seven months of the year.

As America’s original conservationists, recreational fishermen and boaters proactively support science-based efforts to conserve our marine ecosystems. In many cases, our industry has provided the constructive input that was ultimately used to develop management solutions that meet conservation goals and enable the continued social and economic contributions that our industry provides to the nation.

Although this proposed rule has been in development for more than a year, NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources did not make any formal engagement with stakeholders. A pause would allow time for additional analysis of significant flaws within the rule and possible new alternatives to be developed in collaboration with the recreational fishing and boating industry.

“While we all support the intent of this rule to protect right whales, by failing to consult with the recreational fishing and boating community at any point during its development, NMFS has submitted a deeply flawed rule that will have severe economic impacts and provide few benefits. Benefits. right whales,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sport Fishing Association. “The fact that the proposed rule does not meet 6 of the 12 criteria that NMFS is using to justify selecting this option is clear evidence that a pause is necessary.”

“The protection of right whales is urgent and we are ready to do our part. NMFS’s failed due diligence excluded US recreational fishermen and boaters, the most affected stakeholders, from the conversation. The agency needs to get it right,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Based on actual interactions between recreational boats and right whales, the proposed restrictions on boats 35 to 65 feet are unjustifiable, ineffective and unnecessarily costly to the US economy.”

“NOAA’s proposed rule unfortunately underestimates the very real economic impacts on the recreational fishing and boating industry, the largest contributor to the nation’s $689 billion outdoor recreation economy. The rule will stop the vast majority of boating and fishing trips along the Atlantic coast, impacting the millions of Americans who boat each year,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Association of Marine Manufacturers. “We urge the agency to stop its rulemaking process and engage with our industry to determine a better way forward that protects the North Atlantic right whale and the health of the recreational fishing and boating industry.” .

“Safeguarding our natural resources is always a priority for boaters, but you shouldn’t risk human safety. We believe the current proposed rule should be paused and redesigned,” said Chris Edmonston, President of the BoatUS Foundation. “We look forward to working with NMFS on educating boaters and more effective ways to avoid whale strikes because we strongly believe ships can operate safely and avoid whales.”

Among the many concerns of the recreational fishing and boating community with the proposed rule, the most notable are:

  • An analysis of NMFS data found that approximately 5.1 million recreational fishing trips were conducted in this region by vessels 35 to 65 feet in length since 2008. Assuming all five right whale strikes during that time were from recreational vessels, and all of these vessels were fishing trips, the chance of a 35- to 65-foot recreational vessel colliding with a right whale during a deep-sea fishing trip is at most 0.000098%, or less than one in a million . Attempting to predict risk with a one in a million chance of vessel strikes is simply not an effective management strategy and highlights the futility of expanding SSZs to address such a small chance of vessel strike interactions.
  • NMFS is using unrepresentative whale density values ​​in its risk model, which creates a significant bias that may overestimate the risk to whales from small boat strikes. NMFS’s own technical memorandum states that, “the high densities predicted throughout the mid-Atlantic may not be realistic.
  • The model assumes 10 meter draft depth criteria when calculating the risk of collision with vessels. However, pleasure boats in this size class rarely have a static draft exceeding 2 meters. This also creates a bias that can overestimate the risk to whales from collisions with small boats.
  • NMFS underestimates the number of recreational vessels that will be affected by the proposed rule by 9,200 vessels. However, according to 2021 boat registration data analyzed by Southwick Associates, there were more than 63,000 registered saltwater recreational boats measuring between 35 and 65 feet in the proposed SSZ states.
  • NMFS estimates the positive economic output of whale watching in the Northeast to be $95.1 million. In contrast, NMFS estimates $46.2 million in negative impacts for all vessel size classes and regions combined. It’s hard to see how the economic benefits of whale-watching operations in the Northeast outweigh the economic harm of the proposed rule for all recreational vessels.
  • Enforcement of the proposed standard through the use of automatic identification systems (AIS) would be impractical and could lead to a significant risk to human safety. AIS is required for certain vessels over 65 feet to enhance the navigational safety of the vessel and other vessels operating in the area. AIS is not required on recreational boats 35 to 65 feet, although many boat owners voluntarily carry and operate AIS for added safety benefits at sea. It is a very real concern that operators of vessels under 65 feet choose to turn off their AIS systems for fear of triggering a speed restriction enforcement action. This would have the unfortunate consequence of reducing the safety of navigation, the safety of boaters, and hampering efforts during search and rescue operations.
  • Boat speed is an important safety feature on a pleasure craft. Most recreational vessels lack the high-displacement hull design that often provides ocean-going and commercial vessels with stability and the ability to operate safely in major sea states. The 10-knot speed limit would force recreational boaters to operate in conditions that would compromise the safety of passengers and the boat.

The organizations believe that further exploration of technology that can offer real-time tracking of individual right whales is needed. It is feasible to collect real-time location information on a significant part of the right whale population and to disseminate information to mariners and other vessel operators, which would apply a specific, evidence-based precaution rather than overly harsh measures that do not reflect accurately. accurately the actual risk. nor can it be adequately enforced. Developing ways to distribute this information to vessel operators will only occur through direct engagement with industry and fishing and boating organizations.

As part of pausing this rule, the organizations are asking NMFS to work with the recreational fishing and boating community on more scientifically justifiable management solutions that are less harsh and more effective options to protect right whales. Click here for the organizations formal comment letter.

The coalition of groups calling on NMFS to stop the proposed North Atlantic whaling vessel strike reduction rule includes the American Sportfishing Association, the American Boat Owners Association, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the Center for Sport Fishing Policies, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association committed to representing the interests of the sportfishing and boating industries, as well as the entire sportfishing community. We provide the industry and anglers with a unified voice when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect the business of sport fishing or sport fishing itself. ASA invests in long-term business to ensure the industry remains strong and prosperous, as well as to safeguard and promote the enduring economic, conservation and social values ​​of sport fishing in the United States. ASA also gives America’s 55 million fishermen a voice in policy 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.