On November 9, the Congressional Boating Caucus hosted a briefing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) proposed expansion of the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule. The briefing outlined how the proposal would devastate the recreational boating and fishing industries on the Atlantic coast and the communities that depend on them.
Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA) addressed the audience, reiterating his opposition to NOAA’s proposed rule and support for finding technology-based solutions that can protect the right whale without harming the economies of coastal communities.
The panel, moderated by National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Vice President of Government Relations Callie Hoyt, featured American Sportfishing Association’s Atlantic Fisheries Policy Director, Mike Waine, and Captain Mike Kennedy, Director of Recreation at the Sea Island Company, who discussed the severity and economic impact of the proposed rule and the faulty assumptions behind it.
Captain Kennedy said that the 10-knot speed restriction will functionally close his business, as it would be unsafe to operate at those speeds offshore. Kennedy focused on the downstream impact on coastal communities, saying closing recreational boating and fishing opportunities for all or part of the year will harm dealers, mechanics and other businesses that directly serve those industries along the coast. While they will immediately feel the impact of NOAA’s proposed rule, it won’t be limited to boating. Hotels, restaurants and other tourism-supporting small businesses will suffer as boaters and anglers are locked out of coastal waters.
The briefing pointed out that NOAA made faulty assumptions to support its proposed rule. NOAA does not distinguish between a 35-foot boat, which may only draft a few feet, and huge commercial shipping vessels, which draft 45 feet. NOAA also wildly underestimated the number of vessels impacted and the economic impact of the rule. Waine clarified that existing data shows that the chances of recreational vessels between 35 and 65 feet striking a right whale is extremely unlikely. The biggest threat is from vessels more than 260 feet.
Discussion also included Congress’ options to intercede should NOAA decide to finalize the rule as proposed. It is expected to be issued before the end of 2023. The Protecting Whales, Human Safety and the Economy Act of 2023, H.R. 4323, introduced by Rep. Carter (R-GA) and Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK), would strip NOAA of funding for implementing the proposed rule.
You can tell Congress to support the bill on boatingunited.org. Back in September, NOAA announced that it would use $82 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to explore technologies to monitor, track and detect whales to prevent strikes. NOAA will hold for the public an in-person and virtual technology workshop March 5 and 6 in Arlington, Va., to discuss technology to prevent whale strikes. To attend the workshop, you must pre-register here.