NOAA seeks input on whale-strike rule

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The Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seeking comment on the final environmental impact statement for the Ship Strike Reduction Rule.

The rule aims to reduce the number of endangered North Atlantic right whales injured or killed by collisions with ships. The final EIS contains six alternatives, including NOAA’s preferred alternative that would require a vessel speed restriction of 10 knots or less in designated areas along the East Coast. This alternative also includes a five-year sunset provision to allow for further consideration of ongoing scientific research.

“NOAA is looking forward to taking a significant step in our efforts to protect right whales,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, in a statement. “Our scientific analysis shows that a 10-knot speed limit in critical areas will significantly reduce the threat to these endangered marine mammals.”

The 10-knot limit would apply to right whale feeding grounds in the Northeast and to calving grounds in the Southeast. In the Mid-Atlantic area where right whales migrate, the 10-knot speed restrictions would extend out to 20 nautical miles around the major ports. NOAA’s Fisheries Service researchers report that about 83 percent of right whale sightings in the Mid-Atlantic were within 20 nautical miles of shore. The preferred alternative also would establish temporary voluntary speed limits in other areas when a pod of three or more right whales is confirmed.

With about 300 in existence, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales in the world, according to NOAA. The slow-moving whales are highly vulnerable to ship collisions, since their migration route crosses major East Coast shipping lanes.

“The bottom line is that this critically endangered species needs our help,” said Lautenbacher. “The preferred alternative is a balanced approach grounded in science that would significantly enhance our ability to protect right whales, but it would also take into account concerns about the safety of ship crews and the impact on an important segment of our economy.”

NOAA’s Fisheries Service is soliciting comments on the final EIS until Sept. 29. For information, click here.

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