NOAA proposal could shut down 4 Florida seaports, industry leaders say

port tampa bay
A slowdown zone to save Rice's whales would affect Port Tampa Bay, SeaPort Manatee, Port Panama City and the Port of Pensacola.

Florida seaport leaders say a potential federal rule to protect whales could shut down four of the state’s most important docks.

A regulation under consideration by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) could impose regulations on navigable waters on the Gulf Coast. The proposed “Vessel Slowdown Zone” would restrict nighttime water travel to 10 knots within waters that are 100 to 400 meters deep. The restrictions would be in place from Pensacola to Tampa Bay.

But the Florida Ports Council argued the rule could massively hinder activity at four of the state’s 16 ports. The organization said it would virtually shut down Port Tampa Bay, SeaPort Manatee, Port Panama City and Port of Pensacola.

“It’s as if NOAA wants Florida to hang up a ‘closed for business’ sign,” said Mike Rubin, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seaports play an enormous role in fueling (petrol) Florida, and are essential suppliers of everything from food to medical supplies, and construction materials to build homes, roads and make ongoing hurricane repairs in Southwest Florida.”

The rule seeks to protect whales under threat of injury from vessels. Of note, Congress earlier this year imposed a six-year wait to consider regulations to protect right whales in the North Atlantic. That has sparked litigation with environmental groups.

The NOAA rule under consideration in the Gulf of Mexico aims to protect Rice’s whales. But in a letter to NOAA, the Florida Ports Council said the rule isn’t warranted or based on sound science.

“Florida’s seaports have been tireless advocates and stewards on protecting the environment and marine life that surrounds our state,” Rubin wrote in the letter.

“This includes many of our seaports serving on ocean and marine advocacy groups like the Marine Resources Council, Green Marine, and the Florida Ocean Alliance. Florida seaports are committed to protecting whales on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. We continue to work with local federal officials on near real-time monitoring equipment to prevent whale strikes. Florida pilots and other vessel operators monitor their operations and movements in real time. We are dismayed by the lack of communication and interaction with NOAA officials in D.C. in the drafting of these overreaching regulations.”

The letter noted SeaPort Manatee alone saw a 35% increase in container cargo tonnage last year, including many construction materials and food items. That port alone generates $5 billion in economic impact.

Port Panama City also saw record traffic this year. The port has a $1.6 billion economic impact and supports 10,700 local jobs. But it also has helped keep supply lines open in a region still recovering nearly five years after the impact of Hurricane Michael. Similarly, the Port of Pensacola saw a 419% increase in cargo traffic and now moves $300 million through each year.

The most high-profile port on the list is Port Tampa Bay, both Florida’s largest bulk cargo seaport and a major passenger port. The docks generate $17 billion in economic impact and support 85,000 jobs.

“Any insinuation that these seaports are not ‘busy’ is not only inaccurate but an insult to the over 100,000 men and women whose jobs are dependent on vessel and cargo activity at these seaports,” Rubin wrote.

Meanwhile, the rule seeks to protect a population of whales. About 50 to 100 Rice’s whales are believed to live in the entire Gulf of Mexico. The whales, according to NOAA, are seen primarily in the 100- to 400-meter depths. The whales are the only known baleen whales living in the Gulf. Related to Bryde’s whales, Rice’s whales were only identified as a specific species in 2021.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Don't Say FLA

    June 28, 2023 at 2:03 pm

    And now Rhonda’s culture war bologna has they NOAA bridge gating Florida’s porta.

    As if Rhonda blowing State of Florida’s treasury on their campaign stunts over in Texas wasn’t bad enough for Floridians?

    Now four sea ports will be gone, too.

    Great job Rhonda Dee.🤮

    • Rick

      June 29, 2023 at 11:20 am

      Damn that was ignorant

      • Don't Say FLA

        June 30, 2023 at 3:59 pm

        Ignorant how? You think Chris Christie is in charge of Florida ports? He ain’t.

  • migrant boats

    June 28, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    After these comercial porta shut down in yet another hit to the economy from Florida’s “super” majority GOP, if they Trump DeSantis ticket wins and they build that walk, at least there will be plenty of space available for recieving fiahibg trawlers overloaded with Central and South American refugees!

    • Ginger

      June 29, 2023 at 11:38 am

      Maga/Tiny D tears!

Comments are closed.


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