Editor’s Log: A Whale Of A Problem - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: A Whale Of A Problem

In our last couple of New Jersey editor’s log, I’ve spotlighted a “scientific integrity” problem at the federal level and “the lead balloon” hovering precariously above our national parks.  Because of the sheer volume of issues flying at us regularly at the state and federal level, I’m compelled once more this week to highlight another coastal issue with grave implications for boaters.

I wrote about new speed restrictions proposed along the Atlantic Coast in our September 5th weekly Offshore column (A Need For Reduce Speed) borrowing several quotes from Viking Yachts CEO Patrick Healey who has been spearheading opposition to federal efforts to implement a 10-knot speed limit for boats 35 feet and larger from Massachusetts to Florida.  The proposed federal rule would expand the zones from discrete calving areas to virtually the entire East Coast as far out as 100 nautical miles, while extending the go-slow mandate for up to seven months a year

“The proposed rule change represents one of the most consequential maritime regulations ever proposed on the recreational fishing and boating community,” Healey said at the time, adding “a speed restriction of 10 knots for boats 35 feet and larger in such a vast area will all but eliminate the opportunity for thousands of recreational anglers to undertake trips where weather windows can be very narrow.”

The NOAA Fisheries proposal was published on August 1, to which Viking immediately requested a 30-day extension to the public comment period. “Viking Yachts is completely sensitive to the status and outlook of the North Atlantic right whale population,” Healey wrote to NOAA, adding “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.”

A letter from a broad coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations was also presented to NOAA, who has since extended the public comment period to October 31.  Suffice to say, that deadline is fast-approaching, and anyone who operates a 35-foot or larger vessel should give serious consideration to the potential impacts of a 10-knot coastal speed restriction extending 20 nautical miles out from November through April.

“Now that we have the extension, we really need to turn up the volume and make sure our voices are heard,” Healey said recently, adding “Everyone needs to rally – yacht clubs, marinas, fishing clubs, charter boat associations. This is a huge deal that not many people know about.”

The primary way to voice your concerns about the amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule is via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. You can also provide comments through various boating and fishing groups, such as the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Boating United group or through the International Game Fish Association.

All comments will be read and considered, according to NOAA’s Office of Protected Species, which advises participants to supply specific information about how the rule would impact their boating and fishing activities or business. You can also make suggestions for changes to the rule.

Literally tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars in fines have already been levied against boats 65 and over using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to enforce the existing restriction. NOAA says they’ve crafted these amendments to ensure that the North Atlantic right whales are protected against vessel strikes, but the cynic in me wonders how much money NOAA Fisheries has forecast to receive in new fines levied against recreational fishermen.

Seriously, you don’t think the federal government already has a good idea about how much money it will collect through coastal speeding tickets?  Heck, a budget impact statement is typically the first step in the government rulemaking process, why should this be any different?

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