For commercial and recreational anglers, proposed rule to limit whale strikes poses economic risks, opponents say – The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH — Local leaders and boaters gathered at the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament on Friday to hear the latest on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and how it may affect the marine economy.
NOAA’s proposed rule to limit whale strikes would expand on existing requirements by reducing the maximum speed limit for commercial and recreational boats of 35 feet or larger to 10 knots, or about 11.5 mph, in zones across the East Coast. Currently, speed reductions only affect boats 65 feet or larger.
Opponents of the measures say the rules will stifle the chartered fishing business. Maggie Whittemore, the manager and dock master of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, said larger ships, like container carriers and military ships, are excluded from the regulations even though larger vessels could also be causing harm to the right whale.
“These regulations will be detrimental to everyone who makes their livelihood on or near this water,” Whittemore said. “Our short season will be nearly cut in half. And it will be absolutely devastating to everybody involved.”
Deirdre Bell Loftin, coordinator of the tournament, said boaters and fishermen are not against protections for the right whale, but the new proposed rules would do more harm than good. Other solutions, such as tracking the whales in real time, would be a better solution, she said. U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans, who represents Virginia’s 2nd District, said she has co-sponsored a bill to delay funding for the speed restrictions until the Department of Commerce can fully implement new monitoring systems for North American right whales.
For recreational anglers, slower speeds can also mean longer commutes to fishing areas, Congressman Rob Wittman said.
“This means your trip to the fishing grounds results in seven hours of runtime, if you’re going to go 10 knots within the 90-mile limit,” Wittman said. “And then 30 minutes to fish and then coming back. It’s just not viable.”
North Atlantic right whales have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970, according to NOAA. The latest preliminary estimate suggests fewer than 350 remain, including fewer than 70 breeding females. The number of new calves born in recent years has been “below average.” NOAA Fisheries has reported since 2017 that right whales have gone through an “unusual mortality event,” which has prompted further research and investigation into what is happening. NOAA reports the main cause is human interaction, particularly entanglements and vessel strikes.
Whales that have been affected by the event are “dead, injured and sick individuals, who represent more than 20% of the population.” NOAA has noted that this is significant for a species that is already struggling to repopulate. Additionally, research demonstrates that only about a third of right whale deaths are documented.
In February, a 43-foot North Atlantic right whale washed ashore in Virginia Beach near Aeires on the Bay Park. NOAA determined the whale suffered “catastrophic” blunt-force trauma that damaged a large portion of its vertebral column. Injuries consistent with a vessel strike would have resulted in death shortly after the injury. The New England Aquarium identified the animal as right whale #3343, a 20-year-old male. Its last confirmed sighting was Dec. 26, 2022, off the coast of Georgia.
“If you look on the East Coast, there are 70,000 fishing trips that are performed by anglers every year,” Wittman, who has worked on charter boats, said. “The economic impact of those trips is $230 billion a year. When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comes out with a rule that says, ‘By the way, we are going to restrict vessel speeds in this area from Massachusetts to Florida,’ that we know is going to affect the safety of commercial traffic (and) the viability of recreational fishing, especially those folks that are in charter business, I take note.”
Eliza Noe, firstname.lastname@example.org