Friday, Oct. 27, the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration Office of Fisheries denied a petition to establish a mandatory 10-knot (11-mph) speed limit, and other vessel-related mitigation measures, to protect the endangered Rice’s whale in the Gulf of Mexico. This decision comes ahead of the highly anticipated Final Agency Action on the Proposed Amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule, which would establish Vessel Speed Restrictions for vessels 35feet and longer along the East Coast.
NOAA received a petition on May 11, 2021, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, and New England Aquarium, which requested that NOAA establish a year-round 10-knot vessel speed limit, and other vessel related mitigation measures, to protect the Rice’s Whale in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The petition proposed the following restrictions:
- Mandatory 11-mph speed limit for all vessels transiting the proposed zone.
- No vessel transits at night.
- Vessels transiting through the zone must report their plans to NOAA, utilize trained visual observers and maintain a separation distance of 500 meters from Rice’s whales.
- Use and operate an Automatic Identification System, or notify NOAA of transits through the zone.
- Report all non-compliance to NOAA within 24 hours.
Public comment on the proposed regulations in the Gulf began April 7, 2023, during which the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA) and a coalition of groups in the recreational boating and fishing space submitted comments highlighting our concern with the proposed regulations, stressing the impact they stand to have on MRAA members and the recreational fishing and boating industry. To read MRAA’s comments, click here. To read more about our engagement on this issue, click here.
In denying the petition, NOAA highlighted that instead of moving forward with vessel-speed restrictions and other vessel-related conservation measures, other efforts first must be made. NOAA stated that they are “are denying the petition because [they] are prioritizing other conservation actions for Rice’s whales: finalizing critical habitat for the species, conducting additional vessel risk assessments and developing a recovery plan for the species.”
NOAA understands that the proposed regulations and impacts on recreational vessels is not the correct course of action currently and, instead, other conservation measures should be prioritized. As NOAA works on other conservation measures, the marine industry is dedicated to supporting these efforts and ensuring that recreational boating and the recovery of the Rice’s whale can coexist.
“The MRAA commends NOAA for denying this petition and committing to conserving the endangered Rice’s whale with tactics that won’t unduly cripple marine businesses in Gulf Coast communities,” said Matt Gruhn MRAA President. “This decision comes at a critical time, as we are awaiting the final decision on the Proposed Amendments on the Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule. It is our hope that NOAA will employ similar rationale and deny those proposed changes as well.” It is the hope of our boating community that NOAA will deny the proposed Right whale regulations on similar grounds as denying these, and that the recreational marine industry can be a meaningful partner in the nationwide conservation of endangered cetaceans. For more information on this decision, of if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mike Sayre, MRAA Director of Government Relations, at email@example.com.