I am writing to dispel misrepresentations in the guest column “NOAA regulations cast too wide a net” published on September 21. Updates to NOAA’s vessel speed rule will provide safer waters for all while minimizing collision risk between endangered North Atlantic right whales and vessels. Globally accepted research shows that reducing vessel speeds to 10 knots reduces a whale’s risk of death from vessel strikes between 80% and 90%.
The idea that it is unsafe to travel at slower speeds in rough weather is a flawed argument. Every safe boating organization recommends slower speeds when the weather picks up, including the U.S. Coast Guard. If that’s not enough, NOAA includes a safe navigation exemption in the current rule and wants to expand it in the revised rule. Taking the exemption does not require permission, a captain can make the decision on the spot. The bottom line is that safety is literally written into the regulation.
The economic cost difference between NOAA’s figures of $46 million and the association’s figures of $84 billion is unfathomable. This rule only applies to vessels going offshore, not to the entirety of commercial and recreational activity in Georgia. Most recreational fishing and boating takes place in marshes, rivers, and lakes, not in the open ocean. The association implies that these speed restrictions extend 90 miles offshore, but neglects to admit that this is only in one area of the northeast, not in Georgia where the regulation extends roughly 20 miles offshore.
It is critical that NOAA’s vessel speed rule be updated. North Atlantic right whales are on the brink of extinction and human activity is to blame. In our waters, vessel strikes are the leading cause of death and injury and the only way to reduce vessel strikes is to slow vessels down in their habitat.
Our roadways have speed limits, because slower is safer, especially in school zones where children are expected to be present. Why shouldn’t we extend the same precautions when it comes to ships and boats operating among endangered species?
Greg Reilly, Savannah Commander, U.S. Coast Guard (retired) and Marine Campaigner for International Fund for Animal Welfare.