A huge win for the recreational community occurred on Friday, October 27th, 2023 when the petition to establish a mandatory, 10.5-knot speed limit in the Gulf of Mexico was denied by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The speed limit, among other vessel-related mitigation measures, was proposed in an attempt to reduce vessel collisions with the recently discovered Rice’s whale species.
The marine recreational industry commended the rejection of the petition, emphasizing a lack of evidence between recreational vessel collisions and Rice’s whales. NOAA denied the petition stating,” We are prioritizing other conservation actions for Rice’s whales: finalizing critical habitat for the species, conducting additional vessel risk assessments, and developing a recovery plan for the species.”
Public comment on the petition was open from April through July of this year, with more than 75,000 comments being received. The recreational and boating community in particular was quite vigilant when these restrictions were first requested, with thousands of formal comments being directed to Congress. Rather than implementing antiquated, unproven regulations, it was suggested by these offshore stakeholders that the answers to these 21st-century conservation concerns be met with improved technology and 21st-century solutions.
With fewer than 100 individuals remaining, Rice’s whales are currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
More information about the petition may be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office website at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/request-public-comments-petition-establish-vessel-speed-measures-protect-rices-whale