Members Of Congress Call Out NOAA’s Vessel Speed Rule - The Fisherman

Members Of Congress Call Out NOAA’s Vessel Speed Rule

On May 16, during the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee Hearing, “Examining the President’s FY 2025 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Power Marketing Administrations,” members of Congress questioned NOAA Administrator Dr. Richard Spinrad on the agency’s proposed expansion of the 2008 North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction rule. Members focused on the negative economic impacts and safety concerns of the rule, as well as the lack of stakeholder engagement when developing it.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) questioned Dr. Spinrad about his claim that stakeholders were engaged in the drafting of the proposed rule and that all comments submitted were considered, despite the fact that NOAA submitted the rule to the Office of Budget and Management on the very same day that it held a workshop on marine technologies that could help prevent whale vessel strikes.

“We have been asking for a while for NOAA to engage some of the stakeholders with different technologies…it appeared we were moving in the right direction when NOAA held a workshop with some folks that had technologies that, for example, were being used in Canada to avoid strikes,” Rep. Graves said, while adding “I couldn’t help but feel that it was really disingenuous since as the same day the workshop was being held, NOAA submitted the rule to OIRA for review – how could you consider anything that was presented at the workshop if turning the rule to OIRA in the same day?”

Rep. Graves continued to question Dr. Spinrad, saying, “Let’s be honest – it is impossible for NOAA to incorporate what you received and learned at the workshop the same day you turned the rule to OIRA. What can we expect to see in the final rule? I think everyone here shares the objective of whale sustainability while also not using tools that are ineffective and create safety issues when there are more effective technologies available.”

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) echoed Rep. Graves’ concerns, saying, “This rule, if finalized, will destroy the recreational fishing industry and create massive safety hazards for commercial vessels off the Atlantic coast. I remain concerned that NOAA didn’t fully consider the effect the increased restrictions will have on recreational fishing as well as the downstream industries that rely on it. These industries are very significant for my home state of Florida. NOAA has previously acknowledged that the rule will impact far more anglers than are impacted by the current rule.”

When Dr. Spinrad reiterated that NOAA has looked at the economic impacts this rule would have, Rep. Webster was skeptical and mentioned the NMMA Marine Technology Showcase that took place on Capitol Hill in April, saying, “Well, I went to a display in the Rayburn building and there are many innovative companies who have developed already existing technology that could be used to track whales and vessels and patterns. These technologies are very promising and provide a better solution than what’s proposed in the rule. Is NOAA aware of these available technologies?”

Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Bentz (R-OR) appeared skeptical of the rule when he asked Dr. Spinrad to explain the probability of a smaller vessel striking a North Atlantic right whale, specifically saying, “The probability of a vessel, you know, the 35-foot to 65-foot size class striking a right whale is less than one in one million, agree or disagree?” Dr. Spinrad did not agree with that number and was not able to give the probability with sound data, so Rep. Bentz asked for more information to be submitted to the committee.

Watch the full hearing here.