Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule Update

NOAA hosts technology workshop while advancing Right Whale Vessel Speed rule to final stages
• Mike Sayre, Director of Government Relations, MRAA, joins recreational marine and fishing industry advocates; makes case for technology-based solutions

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently held a Vessel Strike Risk Reduction Technology Workshop in an effort to gather stakeholders from government; commercial and recreational marine industries; academia; and environmental non-profits to discuss the status and potential of technological methods to protect the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW).

Right Whale Proposed Speed Rule Update
This map, originally shared Oct. 6, 2022, shows the proposed North Atlantic Right Whale seasonal speed zones.

The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas’ Mike Sayre joined other recreational marine and fishing industry advocates to make the case that technology-based solutions are viable options to protect the NARW while allowing for safe operation of recreational vessels.

A variety of promising technologies were highlighted including satellite imaging, passive acoustic monitoring, infrared sensors, and more that can help detect the NARW. Other discussions focused on how that data could be aggregated and disseminated to mariners to help them avoid NARWs when they are detected. It became clear that there is already a great deal of information on the locations of NARW but there is a reluctance to push that data to the public out of fear that telling mariners where whales are located could lead to more public interaction with the protected animals.

While the technology workshop provided an opportunity for some useful discussions on technology-based solutions to protect the NARW, it was made clear to all attendees that the proposed vessel speed restriction rule was not a topic for discussion at the workshop. This decision highlights how NOAA mishandled this opportunity for collaboration. Had the workshop been conducted early in the rulemaking process, it could have guided the agency to more reasonable solutions that would protect the NARW and allow safe operation for recreational boaters.

Further frustrating stakeholders was the fact that NOAA did not notify attendees that the agency had advanced the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the final step before a rule is finalized. Despite strong opposition from stakeholders and the fact that it relies on inaccurate assumptions, hurts business and safety, and is not the most effective way to protect whales, the proposed Right Whale Vessel Speed Rule has taken another step toward becoming law.

As currently drafted, this proposed rule stands to be one of the most impactful decisions for recreational boating on the East Coast ever

Mike Sayre, Director of Government Relations, MRAA

The draft regulation was put forth by NOAA in August 2022 and proposes to broaden the current 10-knot (11.5-mph) speed restriction to include vessels 35 feet and larger (down from 65 feet); expand the go-slow zones from discrete calving areas to essentially the whole Atlantic Coast out as far as 90 miles; and extend speed zone restrictions to as many as seven months a year. As currently drafted, this proposed rule stands to be one of the most impactful decisions for recreational boating on the East Coast ever. To learn about the history behind this proposed regulation, take a second and read our blog here.

Even at this final stage, there are still opportunities for the recreational marine and fishing industries to make their voice heard and advocate for a more sensible solution that protects both the NARW and the safety of boaters. The MRAA continues to work with impacted industry stakeholders to advocate for those solutions as an alternative to the potentially disastrous vessel speed restriction.

MRAA Survey
As part of those ongoing advocacy efforts, the MRAA is conducting a follow-up to the survey we conducted in 2022 when the rule was first proposed. This survey will allow MRAA to collect the most up-to-date information on the economic impact on marine retailers and related small businesses. To complete the survey, please click here and share with other businesses that will suffer as a result of this proposed rule.

The MRAA is also collaborating with the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, the independent voice for small business within the federal government and the watchdog of the Regulatory Flexibility Act. These efforts will ensure that the devastating impact this proposed rule will have on marine retailers is taken into account along with industry-wide efforts to ensure that the threat to boater safety and the recreational economy of the East Coast is part of the discussion at this final stage (as they should have been at the very beginning of regulatory process).

If you have any questions about the Federal regulatory review process, would like to get engaged, or have questions about the proposed rule, please do not hesitate to reach out to Mike Sayre, MRAA Director of Government Relations at Sayre@mraa.com, or Chad Tokowicz, MRAA Government Relations Manager at Chad@mraa.com.