Following this week’s House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing examining the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) proposed vessel speed restriction along the Atlantic seaboard, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Boozman (R-AR), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and members of the Congressional Boating Caucus, introduced the bipartisan Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023.
The bill would prohibit NOAA from issuing a rule that modifies or replaces the North Atlantic Right Whale vessel strike reduction regulation until technological solutions recently authorized by Congress can help better track whales and avoid strikes. NOAA has proposed changes that would broaden the boundaries and timing of seasonal speed restrictions while expanding mandatory speed restrictions (10-knots, or 11mph), despite a lack of scientific evidence that the proposed changes would further protect the North Atlantic right whales population.
“As Co-Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and as an avid sportsman myself, I know firsthand how important our fishing culture is to who we are, whether that’s on our trout streams in West Virginia or coastal fishing along the Eastern Seaboard,” said Senator Manchin. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023 to prevent yet another example of dangerous federal overreach that would place unnecessary burdens on our seasonal fishermen, boat manufacturers and the coastal economies that rely on them. I’ve consistently voted to rein in this Administration’s attempts to regulate critical industries out of business, and I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bipartisan, commonsense legislation.”
“We can and should balance protecting wildlife and livelihoods because it is common sense. I’m pleased to join Senator Manchin on this legislation to encourage a reasonable solution for safeguarding the Right Whale population without imposing overly restrictive mandates and inviting unintended consequences,” Senator Boozman said.
NOAA’s proposed changes would broaden the boundaries and timing of seasonal speed restrictions along the East Coast while expanding mandatory speed restrictions of 10 knots or less from vessels over 65 feet to those over 35 feet. The proposed speed zones would be in effect annually from November through April or May, directly overlapping with fishing seasons for popular fisheries throughout the speed zones. The changes would impact more than 63,000 registered boats, causing economic harm to coastal economies and the boating and fishing industries.
“America’s $230 billion recreational boating and fishing industry, made up of conservationists who work constantly to protect our treasured natural resources, will bear the brunt of NOAA’s misguided expansion of its North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule. Boaters and anglers deeply respect marine wildlife and know through innovation, technology, and a better understanding of whale migration patterns, our favored pastime and the North Atlantic right whale can co-exist in our nation’s waters,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We applaud Senators Manchin and Boozman for championing this bipartisan legislation and look forward to working alongside Congress to advance this bill and identify data-driven and innovative solutions that protect the North Atlantic right whale, American jobs, small businesses, and coastal economies.”
“Recreational anglers were among the nation’s first conservationists, and conserving marine resources, including whales, will continue to be a top priority,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President and CEO, Jeff Crane. “We sincerely thank Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs Senators Manchin and Boozman for introducing common sense legislation that will provide an opportunity for the angling and boating community to work with NOAA in developing viable solutions to North Atlantic right whale conservation without needlessly shutting down the majority of the east coast to offshore fishing for much of the year.”
“We appreciate Sens. Manchin and Boozman for introducing legislation to address the important issue of right whale vessel speed restrictions,” said Glenn Hughes, President of the American Sportfishing Association. “The sportfishing industry recognizes we have a responsibility to help conserve right whales, but NOAA’s deeply flawed proposed vessel speed rule is not the answer. Keeping in place existing speed restrictions will allow NOAA time to fix the many errors in its proposed rule, incorporate emerging technology and work with stakeholders on more viable solutions going forward.”
“We thank Senators Manchin and Boozman for introducing the bipartisan Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023 in pursuit of better alternatives to NOAA’s draconian vessel speed limit proposal,” said Jeff Angers, President of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “America’s anglers and boaters lead the way in good stewardship of our nation’s natural resources, and we have been at the forefront of science-based efforts to conserve our marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, NOAA got the science wrong; they got the research wrong, and they got the policy wrong. This important bipartisan legislation seeks to make straight their path.”
“BoatU.S. supports the goals of this proposed bill – having NOAA and marine stakeholders work collaboratively to find practical, science-based solutions that will protect marine life, access to our natural resources, and the safety of those who enjoy them,” said Chris Edomonston, President of the BoatUS Foundation.
Full text of the bipartisan bill can be read here.