Carter, Peltola submit bill delaying funds for NOAA speed restriction rules

Reps. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) and Mary Peltola (D-AK) introduced a bipartisan bill to delay funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) proposed speed restrictions for boats 35’ to 65’ until the Department of Commerce can fully implement new monitoring systems for North American Right Whales.

This bill comes after boaters, harbor pilots, and business owners raised concerns that the new safety regulations, nobly designed to protect the right whale from extinction, will pose safety risks for commercial vessels, threaten up to 340,000 American jobs, and negatively impact nearly $84 billion in economic contributions. Citing NOAA’s own data, the likelihood of a recreational vessel striking a right whale is less than one in a million, with boats under 65’ accounting for only five whale strikes since 2008.

“We all want to protect the right whale from extinction, but this is the wrong way to do it,” said Rep. Carter. “Before implementing a sweeping rule that will kneecap small businesses up and down the east coast, including 27,000 in Georgia alone, we must use all of the technological advancements at our disposal so that right whales and business owners can thrive together.”

“Like most of my colleagues, I am concerned about the long-term health of our marine mammal populations, including the North Atlantic Right Whale. This rule, however, has too many potential unintended consequences for small boat operators who need flexibility to maintain their safety at sea. Alaskans know that the ocean is unpredictable; limiting a vessel’s speed can have catastrophic consequences for human life and new regulations should not create additional hazards for our nation’s mariners,” said Rep. Peltola.

Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed broadening the Atlantic Right Whale Strike Reduction Rule by requiring vessels 35 to 65 feet in length to maintain a speed of roughly 11.5 mph when in waters inhabited by right whales, drawing immediate criticism from industry leaders.

“The primary purpose of harbor pilots is to protect the marine environment while ensuring maritime commerce moves safely and efficiently, so we appreciate the vision Representative Carter has shown by championing this important legislation,” said Clay Diamond, Executive Director of the American Pilots’ Association. “NOAA’s proposal was not well thought out and would have the unintended consequences of endangering pilots and pilot boat crews, raising the likelihood of marine accidents in the entrance channels of East Coast ports, and negatively impacting the maritime supply chain that is relied upon by all Americans.  Mr. Carter’s legislation would eliminate these risks by forcing NOAA to modernize its approach to its conservation efforts by focusing more on technology-based solutions.”

“We thank Reps. Carter and Peltola for standing up for recreational anglers and boaters on the Atlantic Coast with the bipartisan Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023,” said Center for Sportfishing Policy President Jeff Angers. “Technological solutions will be most effective in protecting marine mammals in the future, and it is good to see Members of Congress from across the country committed to protecting both our marine environment and those of us who work and recreate on America’s oceans.”

“We applaud Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Congressman Buddy Carter and Congresswoman Mary Peltola for introducing legislation that will do more for North Atlantic right whale conservation than the current rule under consideration by NOAA,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President and CEO Jeff Crane. “Realtime monitoring, and allowing recreational anglers and boaters to be a part of the solution, is the most effective and pragmatic approach to protecting endangered whales.”

“The sportfishing industry recognizes the many challenges facing the right whale population and wants to be part of the solution. However, NOAA’s proposed vessel speed rule is deeply flawed,” said American Sportfishing Association President Glenn Hughes. “We thank Representatives Carter and Peltola for introducing this important bill that will give NOAA time to resolve the many errors throughout this rule, work with stakeholders and incorporate new and emerging technologies that can best protect whales and Americans’ access to public waters.”

Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC), Greg Murphy (R-NC), and John Rutherford (R-FL) signed on as original co-sponsors.

“While it is important to protect the majestic Right Whale from extinction, we must also consider the safety risks posed to commercial vessels and the significant impact on jobs and the economy in South Carolina. According to NOAA’s own data, the chances of a recreational vessel striking a right whale are extremely low, and boats under 65′ have accounted for just five whale strikes since 2008. It is essential to strike a balance which ensures both whale conservation and the well-being of our maritime industries,” said Rep. Mace.

As a Floridian, I understand the significance of the North Atlantic right whale to our ecosystems, our local economy, and our way of life,” said Congressman John Rutherford“With less than 350 North Atlantic right whales left, we must act smartly to help this species survive. That means collaborating with all stakeholders and using the best science available. I am proud to be joining Representative Carter in spearheading this bipartisan legislation. Together we can protect the North Atlantic right whale while preserving our coastal economy.”

“NOAA’s overreach to regulate vessel speeds will not succeed in its intended purpose. If enacted, this regulation would do very little to ultimately protect right whales while threatening our local economy. If enacted, it will end up costing tens of millions of dollars for the commercial and recreational fishing industry, boat manufacturers, and small businesses in Eastern North Carolina. There will be loss of livelihoods, businesses as well as loss of recreation. I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside several colleagues of mine who share similar concerns in blocking the regulation until mitigation protocols are developed and deployed,” said Rep. Greg Murphy, MD.

Rep. Carter previously led the entire Georgia congressional delegation in a letter urging the Commerce secretary to exempt ships from the ports of Brunswick and Savannah, as well as harbor pilot boats, from the proposed seasonal speed limit rules.

Read the full bill text here.

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