NOAA Proposes Vessel Speed Restrictions To Protect Right Whale

The rule would reduce operating speed to 10 knots or less for boats 35 feet to 65 feet LOA.

Seasonal Management Zones
If approved, the 10-knot, speed-restricted Seasonal Management Zones for the right whale would extend from Florida to New England and out to 100 nautical miles. Courtesy Viking Yachts

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed a 10-knot, speed-restriction rule for vessels 35 feet to 65 feet length overall across a broad swath of water along the East Coast in an effort to reduce right whale mortality from vessel strikes. If the rule is implemented, the impact on cruisers, fishermen and more, from Florida to New England could be measurable.

Timelines for these Seasonal Management Zones or SMAs would vary depending on location, but generally they’d be in effect starting in November and run until mid-April to late-June (see proposed SMA map), extending from coastal waters out to 100 nautical miles. NOAA says the effort is an expansion of an already-existing rule for vessels greater than 65 feet length overall.

According to NOAA, there have been 12 lethal right whale vessel strikes since 2008. Of those, five of the vessels have measured less than 65 feet in length. NOAA claims the total right whale population is about 350 with around 100 of those being female, adding that while a population increase occurred between 1990 to 2010, there has been a reproductive decline over the past decade, noting that entanglement in fishing gear has also added to population decline.

The proposed rule has created a strong reaction from the boating, fishing and boatbuilder community.

In a press release, Viking Yachts president Pat Healey stated, “This would be a devastating regulatory mandate. Right whale vessel strikes have just not been an issue for our industry. This is a classic example of government overreach.”

In a letter to NOAA about the proposed rule, Healey stated, “The health of the ocean and all its life is of paramount importance to our company and boat owners. However, we believe the magnitude of the proposed rule warrants careful consideration to ensure that a practical, enforceable and realistic plan is put forward to address the right whale population.”

Viking claims that since 1998 there have been 24 known right whale vessel strikes across 10 states. Of those, eight were attributed to boats from 35 to 65 feet.

According to the American Sportfishing Association, the odds of a vessel from 35 feet to 65 feet striking a right whale are less than one in a million.

The International Game Fish Association stated on its website that the rule “would cripple America’s outdoor economy along the East Coast.”

The proposed speed-restriction rule is open for public comment until October 31, 2022.

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