US senators block north atlantic whale strike speed rule change

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US senators move to block North Atlantic whale strike speed restrictions

8 June 2023 • Written by Holly Overton

Following a US Congress hearing this week on the proposed amendments to the North Atlantic Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule, two US senators have introduced a bipartisan bill in a bid to block the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing its proposed vessel speed restriction along the US eastern seaboard.

The proposed changes by the NOAA include a mandatory 10-knot speed limit on all vessels over 35 feet (10.6 metres) in length along most of the US eastern seaboard – up to 90 miles out from shore – for up to seven months of the year. The existing rule only applies to vessels over 65 feet (19 metres) with much smaller seasonal speed restriction zones around major ports. Initial restrictions were adopted in 2008 aimed at safeguarding endangered whale populations in the North Atlantic. 

The amendments were met with backlash from the recreational boating and fishing industries, arguing that the proposed restrictions threaten the livelihoods of coastal communities and urging the government to look at alternative solutions to protect the whales. 

The new Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023 bill by senators Joe Manchin and John Boozman seeks to prevent the implementation of the speed restriction "until technological solutions recently authorised by Congress can help better track whales and avoid strikes," a statement read. The bill questions the scientific foundation of the rule amendments by the NOAA. 

Credit: Guille Pozzi/Unsplash

Manchin described the move as a "dangerous federal overreach that would place unnecessary burdens on our seasonal fishermen, boat manufacturers and the coastal economies that rely on them."

The restrictions proposed by the NOAA are understood to impact more than 63,000 registered boats and slash 73,000 recreational fishing trips, according to data published by IBI. National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) president Frank Hugelmeyer, called the proposition “the largest single take-away of access in the history of our public waters in the United States."

The new bill was announced a day after a hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources and Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries, where the US boating and fishing industry made its case against the rule change. The bill has welcomed support from the American Association of Port Authorities, National Marine Manufacturers Association, BoatUS Foundation, Center for Sportfishing Policy and the American Sportfishing Association.

The NOAA is currently reviewing more than 90,000 public comments about the rule. 

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