New West Coast Vessel Speed Restrictions on the Way?

National Marine Fisheries Service Expands Right Whale Critical Habitat in Alaska

On Sept. 26, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a revision of the Endangered North Pacific right whale critical habitat in Alaska, expanding the protected area for the species. This update comes after a petition, initially filed March 10, 2022, was put forth by the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the Pacific Right Whale.

Upon receiving the petition, NMFS is required under Federal Law to conduct a review of the petition, evaluate the best available information and then decide to move forward with the designation of new critical habitat. The last instance of a critical habitat designation for the North Pacific right whale under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was in 2008 for 37,000 square miles in the Gulf of Alaska and Bearing Sea.

After reviewing the petition and best available information, NMFS agreed with the petitioners and is now determining how to expand the critical habitat of the North Pacific right whale. NMFS will revise critical habitat by analyzing available acoustic detections, sightings and relevant habitat data. After it evaluates the best available information, NMFS will announce a proposed rule that is open for public comment.

This proposal is significant to marine retailers and the recreational boating community because it may now allow vessel speed restrictions to spread to the West Coast. Currently, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NMFS are in the process of expanding a vessel speed zone for boats 35 feet and longer along the East Coast to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The proposed speed zone would create a massive restriction to access for recreational boaters while harming recreational boating businesses and coastal communities along the Eastern Seaboard.

The map above highlights the proposed East Coast right whale Vessel Speed zone. Learn more about the proposed North Atlantic right whale vessel speed rule.