Captain's Table

Deadline extended for right whale rulemaking

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has extended the comment period on the proposed speed limits and other measures for passenger vessels and others that operate near endangered North Atlantic right whales. The comment period was to have closed on Aug. 25.
The NOAA notice, published in the Federal Register on Aug. 14, stated that comments would now be accepted until Oct. 5. As written, the rule has the potential to put some whale-watch and ferry operators out of business.
One possible substitute for the arbitrary speed reductions could be the installation of some form of forward-looking sonar that could operate without harming marine mammals. One sonar system that is now under development by FarSounder operates by sending a single ping every one to two seconds at a frequency range that marine mammals do not react to. The very low frequency sonar that has been shown to be harmful to some marine mammals is not part of the FarSounder system. Further tests are underway to see if the cost of the final product can be reduced. The current price of the system may be too much for the average ferry and whale-watch boat.
The proposed rulemaking would impose a 10-knot speed limit on vessels 65' or longer at various times of the year in the areas along the East Coast from north Florida to New England. The goal is to reduce the risk of collisions between right whales and oceangoing vessels. NOAA also wants to establish designated and alternative routes, mandatory traffic lanes, area boundaries, critical time periods, avoidance and precautionary areas, and alert notice procedures. The agency is actively soliciting comments and participation from vessel owners and operators to help establish local strategies in different coastal areas that will assist in reducing right whale ship strikes and reduce any negative impacts on the economics of the maritime community.
Vessel operators in affected areas should submit comments to help reduce the economic impact on ferry and whale-watch businesses.
Information on the current status of the rulemaking can be found at: http://nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/. Other assistance is available from Dr. Gregory Silber of NMFS at 301-713-2322, ext. 152.