Scott joins Republicans in requesting NOAA rethink proposal to reduce vessel speeds

A recently proposed rule change by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could slow port operations in certain states, hurt sport fishers and boat manufacturers, and threaten the lives of harbor pilots, according to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and several of his Republican colleagues.

The senators are concerned about the NOAA’s proposed rulemaking published in the Aug. 2 Federal Register that would amend the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) Vessel Strike Reduction Rule. NOAA wants to change vessel speed regulations to further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions.

While the senators support NOAA’s efforts to protect the NARW, they have “serious concerns” about its current proposal, according to an Oct. 20 letter the lawmakers sent to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad.

“After briefings from our harbor pilots, ports experts, fishermen, and boaters, we understand the proposed changes would challenge navigation safety, endanger mariners, and threaten the viability of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida ports, as well as the boating and fishing industries and communities in our states,” wrote the six Republicans, who also included U.S. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

For instance, Sen. Scott and his colleagues pointed out that the NOAA proposal would nearly double the areas in which the seasonal 10-knot vessel speed restrictions apply, essentially blanketing the entire East Coast, including the Federal Navigation Channels (FNCs) in their states.

“These speed restrictions should not apply in FNCs, especially the FNCs leading to our nation’s commercial strategic ports,” they wrote. “Further, as NOAA has stated publicly, the agency is not aware of there ever having been a vessel strike of a NARW in one of these channels, so they should be excluded from the speed restriction zones.”

Among other concerns, the senators wrote that the NOAA’s proposed rule would put mariners in danger, or unnecessarily disrupt the maritime supply chain, and “would cause significant harm to the charter and recreational boaters and fishermen, marinas, boat builders, and related industries that are the economic backbone of many of our states’ coastal communities.”

“We urge NOAA to work in good faith with key stakeholders, including ports, pilots, shipping, labor organizations, and boating and fishing groups to modify its proposal so that the NARW is protected, but the unintended consequences discussed above can be eliminated,” the senators concluded.