Recreational Fishing and Boating Community Opposes Vessel Speed Restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico

Collaboration Needed in Conserving Rice’s Whales 

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 18, 2023 – The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and other leading organizations representing the recreational fishing and boating industry urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to reject a petition to establish a year-round 10-knot (11 mph) vessel speed limit and other vessel-related measures in the Rice’s whale “core” habitat area in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The petitioners are asking NOAA to use their authority under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act to establish a “Vessel Slowdown Zone” from approximately Pensacola, Fla., to south of Tampa, to protect the newly discovered Rice’s whale. To learn more, read the MRAA blog here.  

Map of Gulf of Mexico showing proposed Vessel Speed Restriction zone for certain sized boats
The red represents the proposed area where the 10-knot mandatory vessel speed limit, and additional mitigation measures, will be in place.

On top of the mandatory 11-mph speed limit for all vessels transiting the proposed zone, the petition proposes the following additional restrictions: 

  • 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 (1,640 feet) 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. 

There is zero evidence that a recreational vessel has ever struck a Rice’s whale. 

Matt Gruhn of the MRAA
Matt Gruhn, MRAA President

“While the MRAA appreciates NOAA’s focus on conservation and ensuring that our nation’s oceans and marine habitats are healthy, there must be consideration for the impact vessels speed restrictions will not only have on boaters, but on marine dealers throughout the Gulf Coast,” said Matt Gruhn, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas President. “Regulations like this can absolutely influence consumers, disincentivizing someone from getting into boating, upgrading to a larger vessel, or causing them to sell their boat. With the health of both the Rice’s whale and the marine industry at heart, the MRAA calls for better solutions as opposed to these unfounded, unnecessary restrictions.”   

“Once again, proponents of vessel speed restrictions are acting as if small recreational boats are the same as large cargo ships; they are not,” said Jeff Angers, President, Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We invite NOAA to join with us in identifying 21st century technological advances that can help tell mariners where whales are instead of effectively barring public access to America’s marine waters.” 

“As more is learned about the recently discovered Rice’s whale, it is critical that NOAA focus from the outset on collaborating with stakeholders instead of leaping to drastic restrictions,” said Glenn Hughes, American Sportfishing Association President. “As an industry that cares deeply about 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 boating and fishing is not a viable path forward for the Rice’s whale or the economy.” 

“The recreational boating and fishing community is committed to marine wildlife protection and ensuring our cherished waters are safe for wildlife, including the Rice’s whale, and boaters alike,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, National Marine Manufacturers Association President. “A blanket approach such as vessel speed restrictions covering large swaths of the Gulf will do little to address the protection of the Rice’s whale population and puts recreational boaters, anglers, and communities that rely on economic activity from these industries at risk. 

“As NOAA considers its next steps on addressing the Rice’s whale recovery and protection, the boating and fishing industry looks forward to working alongside the agency, and all impacted stakeholders, to determine a holistic approach to protect this vulnerable species while maintaining access along the Gulf Coast.” 

In summary, the groups recommend that NOAA does not initiate any rulemaking action based on the petition for the following reasons: 

  • The petitioners fail to put forward any evidence that recreational vessels pose a risk to Rice’s whales that would justify the significant rules proposed in the petition. 
  • The petition fails to propose action to address the greatest sources of mortality to the Rice’s Whale. 
  • NOAA has failed to engage with the recreational fishing and boating industry on Rice’s whale recovery planning or to better understand how their vessels may interact with Rice’s whales. 
  • NOAA needs to fully investigate and report on the likelihood of recovering Rice’s whales given documented concerns about its population size. 

Instead of moving forward with the petition for rulemaking, NOAA should instead: 

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

The MRAA submitted comments that focused solely on the impact of the proposed regulations on marine dealers in Gulf Coast states. Through surveying its members throughout the Gulf States, the MRAA found that if implemented, the proposed regulations would have a substantial impact on dealers, with dealers estimating they will lose on average 96 boat sales a year if the regulations are implemented. To understand the impact on marine industry stakeholders, the MRAA requested NOAA to conduct a comprehensive and in-depth economic analysis. To read MRAA’s comment, click here

The issue of vessel speed restrictions was recently the subject of a congressional hearing on the impacts of the NOAA’s proposed changes to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule. Impacted stakeholders from the $230 billion recreational fishing and boating industry testified on the devastating impacts NOAA’s flawed rule would have on businesses, jobs and coastal recreation across the Atlantic seaboard. As a result of numerous stakeholder concerns with NOAA’s lack of engagement ahead of the rulemaking, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), introduced the bipartisanProtecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023 to prohibit NOAA from issuing a rule that modifies or replaces the North Atlantic Right Whale vessel strike reduction regulation until technological solutions recently authorized by Congress can help better track whales and avoid strikes. 

About the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas 
At the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, we believe that for the marine industry to thrive, the retail organizations that interact with the boaters in their community must thrive. With that in mind, MRAA works to create a strong and healthy boating industry by uniting those retailers, providing them with opportunities for improvement and growth, and representing them with a powerful voice. For more information, visit or contact us at 763-315-8043.