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Waltz, Comer Press NOAA on Whale Rule That Could Hurt Commercial Vessels & Supply Chains

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, U.S. Congressman Mike Waltz (FL-6) and Chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability James Comer (KY-1) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator (NOAA) Richard Spinrad expressing their concern over the proposed expanded habitat protections for the Rice and North Atlantic right whales will jeopardize the safety of vessels and hinder commercial vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard. 

Under the proposed NOAA measure, economic activities for commercial vessels and supply chains could be stressed due expanded habitat protection for these whales and force a reduction of 10-knot speed for water vessels. This proposed rule would also impact recreational vehicles. Concerningly, a number of watercrafts are not designed to operate within a 10-knot speed limit and the proposed conditions would add unnecessary safety hazards for mariners. 

“NOAA’s proposed rule could seriously harm commercial activity for vessels operating around Florida’s coastline, jeopardize the safety of mariners, and cripple our state’s recreational boating and fishing industries,” said Waltz. “We need to allow common sense to prevail that both promotes our state’s economy and protects wildlife from unintended harm.”   

Read the full letter below:

Dear Administrator Spinrad:

As Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, we write to

express our concern that proposed Rice’s whale and North Atlantic right whale expanded habitat protections could jeopardize the safety of vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard. While reasonable measures should be taken to safeguard wildlife, the proposed measures for each species will not only hinder vital economic activity and add undo stress to supply chains, proposed actions could unnecessarily endanger the lives of mariners. As such, we request a staff-level briefing to ensure that the proposed standards have properly accounted for vessel and crew safety.


On July 24, 2023, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published the proposed rule Endangered and Threatened Species; Designation of Critical Habitat for the Rice’s Whale.1 If enacted, this measure would designate 28,270 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for Rice’s whales,2 and proposed critical habitat stipulations would compel vessels within this zone to comply with strict operating procedures that establish a 10-knot speed limit for oil and gas vehicles, prohibit movement at night, and require vessels to utilize visual whale observers. 3Likewise, on August 1, 2022, NMFS and NOAA published the proposed rule Amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule,4 which would nearly double protected areas for the North Atlantic right whale along the Atlantic Coast, implement a 10-knot speed limit for vessels, and include smaller crafts in its scope.


While these measures aim to safeguard marine life, the proposed rules could have

unintended consequences that endanger vessels operating off our coasts. Certain watercrafts are not designed to operate within a 10-knot speed limit, and slower maneuvering speeds for large vessels in the proposed conditions would add unnecessary safety hazards for mariners.5 As evidenced by the unfortunate capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power in 2021, vessel speed is an integral component to ensuring craft integrity and crew safety, especially in dangerous situations.6 Further, restricting vessel movement to daylight hours for industries that operate continually would not only severely hamper supply chains for essential goods and resources,7 it could also prompt imprudent determinations from captains attempting to meet deadlines.


To ensure NOAA’s habitat protections have also properly taken vessel safety into

account, we request a staff-level briefing as soon as possible but not later than April 19, 2024. If you have related questions or to schedule the briefing, contact House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Majority staff at 202-225-5074. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.