In an effort to protect the critically endangered Rice’s whale and their habitat, a recent petition submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council and five other environmental non-governmental organizations to NOAA proposes implementing a mandatory 10-knot speed restriction throughout a vast expanse of the coastline from Mississippi to Fort Myers, FL, all year round.
The petition also proposes: a year-round ban on nighttime transit in the designated area; passing vessels must file a plan to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and utilize visual observers; maintain a 500-yard distance from Rice’s whales; operate an AIS system or file a plan with NMFS; and report all deviations from these requirements to NMFS.
The restrictions on speed limits for the Rice’s Whale have raised valid concerns about safety, privacy, and economic impacts, especially since it limits access to the ocean for boating and fishing industries. The area would include important recreational fishing grounds, including De Soto Canyon, The Edges, The West Florida Slope, The Spur, and The Nipple. It would also cause cancellation of tens of thousands of boating and fishing trips, severely impact tournament events, and also decrease maneuverability, visibility, and safety. In addition, the no-night transit would make it impossible to travel to offshore fishing grounds.
This proposed rule would essentially devastate the maritime economy, causing massive job losses. It is imperative to find a solution that doesn’t cause further harm to already struggling marine life populations while also taking into account the concerns of the boating and fishing industries.
There have been only two confirmed vessel strikes, one leading to the death of a whale in Tampa from a large ship and evidence of a strike in another. Fortunately, there have been no known strikes by recreational boats and no data to support that recreational boats cause mortality to the Rice’s Whale. Also, the petition fails to mention that the Rice’s Whales’ greatest threat is oil and gas exploration.
“This is just not about recreational fishing, we need to find a balance between protecting the Rice’s Whale habitat and impacting the livelihood of the people in the marine-related and tourism business in the Upper Gulf,” says Carmine Galati of Galati Yacht Sales. “I encourage anyone with an interest in this issue to make their voices heard.”
Make your voice count and take action on 10-Knot Gulf restriction by utilizing the provided call to action below. Contribute to a balanced solution that protects marine life while also supporting the livelihoods of the people in the marine-related and tourism business.
Act Now! Gulf of Mexico 10-Knot Speed Restriction
The species faces multiple threats to its recovery, including oil and gas activities, vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglement, underwater noise, and low reproductive output. The devastating Deep Water Horizon spill is estimated to have killed 17% of the population, and it is projected to take 69 years to return to pre-spill levels.