On June 23, Georgia congressman Buddy Carter introduced legislation on Capitol Hill to stop NOAA from imposing new speed restrictions on boats and ships in the agency’s efforts to protect critically endangered whales. H.R.4323 would prohibit the issuance of an interim or final rule that amends, updates, modifies, or replaces the North Atlantic Right Whale vessel strike reduction rule until mitigation protocols are fully developed and deployed.
Rep. Carter, a republican whose district includes Georgia’s 100-mile coast, said the enhanced slowdown rules would be restrictive enough to cause charter fishing boats to quit the business and to disrupt the efficiency of busy seaports like the Port of Savannah.
Cosponsors of the bill include Representatives Mary Sattler Peltola, (D-AK), Gregory Murphy (R-NC), John Hr. Rutherford, John H. (R-FL) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier in the month by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.
NOAA wants to expand areas where mariners are required to slow down to 10 knots (11.5 mph) during seasons when right whales are likely in the water. The new slow zones would cover the entire East Coast from northern Florida to Massachusetts, filling in large gaps where no restrictions currently exist. Opponents said the restrictions would force fishing boats, harbor pilots and recreational vessels to slow down to speeds that are often unsafe in choppy seas or inclement weather.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told lawmakers the rule change would endanger vessels and any people onboard by forcing them to move at “the speed of a bicycle.” Hugelmeyer’s association has estimated the new rule would affect 60,000 vessels from fishing boats to yachts.
In testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries on June 7, 2023, Capt. Fred Gamboa of Andreas’ Toy Charters out of Point Pleasant noted that a 10-knot speed restriction would force for-hire captains to prolong journeys, significantly increasing the time spent on the water. “This would expose my passengers, crew, and vessels to various other risks besides adverse weather including fatigue leading to higher risks of accidents and emergencies.”
Capt. Gamboa added, “The extended duration at sea would necessitate additional safety precautions and resources, placing a strain on the overall safety infrastructure of my business.”