Overview of the Issue
North Atlantic Right Whales are an endangered species of whale that migrates from Massachusetts to North Florida throughout the year. To protect the species from decline, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently proposed a rule requiring all boats 35 feet and longer that go offshore from Massachusetts to north Florida to restrict speed to 10 knots (11.5 mph) or slower from November to April or May. The restricted area runs from Massachusetts to north Florida for dozens of miles offshore. The NMFS cited whale mortality from vessel strikes as the reason for the proposal.
ASA understands the importance of protecting right whales from extinction. They are an important part of our coastal ecosystems, and stakeholders must work together toward their survival. Unfortunately, this rule is misguided and too intrusive, as the slow zone would extend as far as 90 miles out to sea in parts. Due to the large area covered, the speed restriction would leave little to no time for fishing, meaning trips won’t happen. Lost fishing days also harm the saltwater recreational fishing industry, which generates $6.3 billion in sales and supports 61,000 jobs throughout the affected region.
Although whale strikes are tragic, they are extremely unlikely by the boats covered under this proposal. Since 2008, there have been five small vessel strikes on right whales, while there have been 5.1 million fishing trips over that same period, meaning the chances of a small boat strike on a whale is less than one in a million. According to NOAA, there are 9,000 recreational boats that would be affected by this ruling while our estimates put this number closer to 63,000.
Due to the significant impact this rule will have on anglers, boaters and coastal communities, we are calling on NMFS to pause this rule and work with us and other stakeholders on better options that protect both right whales and the outdoor recreation economy.