September 19, 2022
By Jeff Weakley
Anglers who run boats larger than 35 feet and enjoy wintertime trolling and bottom fishing from Sebastian Inlet north through Georgia need to pay attention to this one.
Actually all boaters, anywhere, need to listen up, as this is about a proposal for unprecedented, very large-scale changes to traditional marine navigation.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has proposals out for seasonal (Nov 15-Apr 15) speed zones to protect endangered northern right whales. Plotting boundary points for one of these zones, the Southeast Zone, we see that a 10-knot maximum vessel speed would apply during this period from shore out 2 miles off Melbourne, from shore out at least 4 miles off Canaveral and Ponce Inlet, and as far out as 27 miles off Jacksonville. The seasonal speed limit would apply only to vessels 35 feet and larger. By our rough calculations, this could add 30 minutes to two or more hours to transit to wahoo grounds and other fisheries.
Federal scientists with NMFS cite evidence that the seasonal speed zone would be a critical step toward preventing lethal vessel strikes. The scientists admit those strikes are very rare (fewer than one per year for boats under 65 feet in length!), but nevertheless, they indicate the northern right whale population is at such low levels and undergoing such low reproductive rates, drastic measures are needed.
NMFS is asking for public comment on the proposals—how they’d affect your lifestyle, what you think about the proposals, ideas for alternatives (maybe transit corridors for normal speed operation?).
Public comment period runs through October 31, 2022.
Read about the proposed rules here (there are links to summaries and PowerPoint slides):