TODAY, March 3, 2014, is the deadline to comment (click “submit comments” on link) on the “petition” to create exceptions in the “Ship-Strike Rule” that exclude Federally-maintained dredged entrance channels and pilot boarding areas for ports from New York to Jacksonville from Vessel Speed Restrictions.
As the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finalized the Ship-Strike Rule in 2013, it received comments expressing concern for the safety of ships and pilots. While it was not required to do so, NOAA treated those comments as a petition for rule-making, resulting in this public comment period, ending TODAY.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) provided an opportunity to add one’s name to its comment, but this opportunity ended Friday, February 28, 2014, and just in case folks missed that or if they would like to write an individual comment, I just wanted them to know that comments can be submitted by today’s deadline of March 3, 2014.
My comment, which is quite short, is far from exhaustive, and even though I am pretty certain that I signed WDC’s statement, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to send a few words and participate in the really lovely review and comment process of U.S. Federal rule-making.
I urge NOAA to not proceed with a rule-making that will undo the protections of the “Ship-Strike Rule,” that is, to “Exclude Federally-Maintained Dredged Entrance Channels and Pilot Boarding Areas for Ports From New York to Jacksonville From Vessel Speed Restrictions.” As noted in the Federal Register notice, the purpose of the original rule was “to reduce fatal vessel collisions with North Atlantic right whales.” Specifically, NOAA enacted the ship strike speed rule requiring vessels 65 feet and larger to slow to 10 knots or less during the seasons right whales are expected to be present in designated areas along the East Coast
Since the rule was initially promulgated, ship-strikes have reduced and may have been instrumental in a mild rebound of the Northern Right Whale population (although NOAA in this petition might have retained its 2008 number of 300-400, at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/shipstrike/pressrelease_effective.pdf, instead of less than 500), since it reached its ebb in the mid- to late-1990s. Since the petitioner makes no credible demonstration that the recall of the Ship-Strike Rule (1) will not result in undermining the very purpose of that Rule and (2) is necessary for safety of ship navigation, NOAA is without basis for a termination of the Rule.
The following study links ship speed directly to injuries to whales, in particular, the North Atlanta Right Whale: http://www.phys.ocean.dal.ca/~taggart/Publications/Vanderlaan_Taggart_MarMamSci-23_2007.pdf
The existing rules for governing navigational safety, Rule 2(b) of the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972 (72 COLREGS), provide sufficient flexibility to deviate from the ship speeds for purposes of safety.
Any undoing of the Rule without a clear demonstration that its rescission is necessary for a clear purpose factually supported by as a direct cause and effect relationship and that will not result in a significant resurgence of ship-strikes would be arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with law.
I therefore urge NOAA to deny the petition to create exceptions for Federally-maintained dredged entrance channels and pilot boarding areas for ports from New York to Jacksonville from Vessel Speed Restrictions.
Write a comment. Give the Critically Endangered Northern Right Whale as much of a fighting chance as we can muster, so that we truly support their chances at avoiding extinction and making a successful annual migration from the Bay of Fundy, where they mate, to the border of Florida and Georgia, where they calve. We owe it to them.
What other comments are outstanding? We can and should all begin to flex our review-and-comment muscles. Currently open is the comment period for the Petition To Include The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales. Comments for Tokitae’s inclusion on the listing with her family are due by March 28, 2014.