Leisure Fishing and Boating Teams Desire a Pause in Proposed Federal Laws to Restrict Boat Pace

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A 10 knot rule along the entire east coast could wipe out the shipping industry.
Courtesy of NOAA

In early October, numerous fisheries and boating associations (including the IGFA and CCA) representing countless outdoor people called on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to suspend its proposed rule to reduce strikes by North Atlantic right whale vessels, citing many shortcomings .

NMFS is proposing amendments to the rule that would extend the current 10 knot speed limit for boats 65 feet and larger to boats 35 feet and larger. The proposed rule would extend go-slow zones from discrete calving grounds to essentially the entire Atlantic Seaboard to 90 miles, with zone restrictions lasting up to seven months per year.

This amazingly far-reaching proposal would devastate America’s ocean industry, severely impacting fishermen, tour guides and all coastal marinas, fishing tackle, resorts and other outdoor businesses, officials from groups affected by the proposed federal rule say.

The proposed rule has been in development for more than a year. But NOAA had no formal working relationships with anglers, boaters, and others. A pause would allow time for additional analysis of significant shortcomings within the rule and potential new alternatives that could be developed with the recreational fishing and boating industry.

“Protecting right whales is urgent and we stand ready to do our part,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The NMFS failed due diligence, leaving America’s recreational fishermen and boaters — the most affected stakeholders — out of the conversation. The agency has to get it right. Based on actual interactions between recreational boats and right whales, the proposed restrictions on vessels from 35 to 65 feet are unjustifiable, ineffective and unnecessarily costly to the American economy.”

“While we all support the intent of this rule to protect right whales, at no point in its development has NMFS proposed a deeply flawed rule that will have serious economic implications and deliver little benefit by never engaging with the recreational fishing and boating community on right whales,” said Glenn Hughes, President of the American Sportfishing Association.

Predictably, the proposal did not go down well with American boaters, anglers, and their representative recreational organizations.

“The proposed rule, as written, would be the most consequential maritime regulation we have ever seen imposed on the recreational craft and fishing sectors,” said John DePersenaire, director of government affairs for New Viking Yachts, based in New Jersey . “It will not only affect boat owners, but also marinas, fishing shops, charter boat operators – basically every maritime company on the Atlantic coast.”

One of the most revealing realities of the federally proposed whale rule is that an analysis of NMFS data found that approximately 5.1 million recreational fishing trips have been made in this region by vessels ranging in length from 35 to 65 feet since 2008. There were five white hits boats within that time. Assuming that all five attacks on right whales were by recreational vessels and that all of these vessels were fishing voyages, the probability that a 35- to 65-foot recreational craft will hit a right whale during an offshore fishing voyage is at most 0.000098% or less than one in a million.

Trying to predict risk at a one-in-million chance of a vessel striking is not an effective management strategy, the fisheries associations say, and it underscores the futility of expanding whale speed zones to account for such a low probability of fishing vessels striking.

“Unfortunately, NOAA’s proposed rule underestimates the very real economic impact on the recreational boating and fishing industries, which are the largest contributors to the nation’s $689 billion recreational economy. The rule will halt the vast majority of boating and fishing trips along the Atlantic Seaboard and will affect millions of Americans who boat each year,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We urge the agency to pause its rulemaking process and work with our industry to find a better way forward that protects the North Atlantic Right Whale and the health of the recreational boating and fishing industries.”

Outdoor groups also point out that speed is an important safety feature on recreational boats. Most recreational boats lack a high displacement hull design, which often provides oceangoing and merchant vessels with stability and the ability to operate safely. The 10-knot speed limit would force recreational boaters to sail in conditions that would endanger the safety of passengers and vessels.

“Protecting our natural resources is always a priority for boaters, but it shouldn’t compromise people’s safety. We believe the currently proposed rule needs to be paused and redesigned,” said Chris Edmonston, President of the BoatUS Foundation.

“We look forward to working with NMFS to educate boaters and more effective ways to avoid whale attacks because we truly believe boats can operate safely and avoid whales.”