New Jersey For-Hire Captain Testifies Before Congress - The Fisherman

New Jersey For-Hire Captain Testifies Before Congress

Last Wednesday, June 7th, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held an oversight hearing, “Examining the impacts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) proposed changes to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule,” inviting stakeholders from the $230 billion recreational boating and fishing industry to testify on the devastating impacts that NOAA’s proposed vessel speed restrictions would have on the community.

According to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics, the recreational boating and fishing industry is the single largest contributor to the nation’s $862 billion outdoor recreation economy. Despite this fact, NOAA Fisheries is proposing sweeping changes to its existing vessel speed rule, with a proposed 10-knot speed restriction to include vessels 35 feet and larger, an expansion of the existing Seasonal Speed Zones to span huge swaths of the Atlantic from Massachusetts to central Florida, and a 10-knot speed restriction up to 90 miles out from shore and in some instances, for up to 7 months of the year.

“Recreational boaters and anglers are longtime conservationists who share the goal of protecting the North Atlantic right whale and our ocean ecosystems,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), while adding “We’re committed to investing in technologies that do just that.”

In his testimony before Congress, Hugelmeyer said NOAA’s proposed rule would put boaters at risk and decimate tens of thousands of businesses in coastal communities along the Atlantic seaboard.  “Marine mammal protection, economic prosperity and access to our cherished waters can coexist,” Hugelmeyer said, adding “It’s a false choice to make Americans choose one over the other. Innovative technologies, real-time tracking and monitoring tools offer a more viable solution to protect all whales while allowing for continued recreational marine-related economic contributions along the East Coast.”

Also testifying at the Congressional hearing was Capt. Fred Gamboa of Andreas’ Toy Charters out of Point Pleasant who noted that such a 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.”

The recreational marine industry is calling for NOAA and Congress to work with the industry to identify a balanced, data-driven and innovative approach to protecting both the North Atlantic right whale and coastal communities, while maintaining public access to our nation’s shared waterways.