Marco Rubio, Rick Scott urge NOAA to drop proposed right whale protection rule
Image via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

right whales fwc
There are around 70 calving female North Atlantic right whales believed to be alive.

Organized pushback against federal efforts to reduce North Atlantic right whale deaths continues to grow in South Atlantic states as shipping and charter fishing interests try to stall or stop the implementation of new speed restrictions for vessels of 35 feet or larger.

As the days wound down on NOAA Fisheries’ public comment period, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott teamed up with fellow Republican Senators from the Carolinas to oppose the new rule.

Their main beef with the rule is it alters “the long-standing and effective navigation safety ‘deviation clause’ contained in the current regulations.’ With regard to port safety and commercial viability, the rule was originally amended in 2008 to provide a navigation safety deviation clause that would allow large commercial ships to safely navigate within the confines of the narrow offshore Federal Navigation Channels (FNC) along the U.S. east coast.”

That also came up in a recent meeting of the Port of Fernandina’s Ocean Highway and Port Authority, which ultimately decided not to take a position on the new vessel strike reduction rule. However, the Florida Ports Council did in a recent tweet.

“FL seaports have been tireless advocates and stewards protecting the environment and marine life, but the proposed amendments present significant life and safety risks for all commercial, recreational, and military mariners who rely upon FL seaports,” the Council tweeted.

Charter fishing captains have already expressed that the rule — 10 knots within the calving area from Nov. 15 to April 15 for vessels longer than 35 feet — will make part of their business impossible to conduct in a fashion similar to how it is today. Speed restriction rules were already in effect for vessels longer than 65 feet.

“Angler spending on impacted offshore recreational fishing trips is estimated at more than $15 million per year,” according to the Senators’ letter. “These trips are likely to be cancelled or significantly shortened if vessels used are subject to a 10 knot speed restriction. 

“In addition, according to data from NOAA Fisheries, approximately 5.1 million recreational fishing trips were taken in this region by vessels 35-65 feet in length since 2008 thus the chance of a 35-65 foot recreational vessel striking a (North Atlantic right whale) during an offshore fishing trip is less than one in 1,000,000.” 

The last recreational vessel strike occurred in February 2021, when the About Time, a 54-foot recreational vessel, slammed into a right whale calf at 20 knots, half a mile off St. Augustine Inlet.

There are so few right whales, and they reproduce so rarely, that each human-caused death is another step toward extinction. Scientists believe every North Atlantic right whale death over the past 50 years is human-caused, as the whales are not dying naturally and they have no real predators. 

There are around 70 calving female North Atlantic right whales believed to be alive. In all, scientists believe there are around 340 total North Atlantic right whales remaining.

The only place these whales calve is off the coasts of Florida and Georgia, then the calves nurse on the long trip back up the East Coast to waters off New England and the Canadian Maritimes.  

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:

One comment

  • marylou

    November 3, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    The whales must be protected. People in boats —for whatever purpose— should not be permitted to destroy natural resources that belong to all of us. It’s amazing that anyone would even think that’s okay.

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