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Fishing Industry Protests Proposed Vessel Speed Restrictions in Florida’s Gulf

Jetting out of Johns Pass to the emerald green Gulf seas off Florida’s coast, Captain Dylan Hubbard from Hubbard’s Marina has expressed his concerns about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) proposed vessel speed restrictions. Despite numerous fishing charters, Hubbard claims to have never personally spotted a whale, and he believes the blame on the fishing and boating industry for whale deaths is misplaced. The proposed restrictions aim to protect North Atlantic rights and Rice’s whale populations, but critics argue that they lack scientific backing and could severely impact Florida’s coastal economy.

Conflicting Views on Vessel Speed Restrictions

Hubbard represents thousands of business and marine tourism industry leaders voicing their opinions on two separate proposals brought by nonprofits and lobbyists to NOAA. One proposal suggests a year-round 10-knot vessel speed limit in the core habitat of Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico, while the other extends the same speed limit to the entire East Coast to protect right whales. Hubbard believes NOAA has not made any progress on Rice’s whales and that the research on them is still in its early stages.

The Economic Concerns

Florida’s outdoor recreation, including boating and fishing, constitutes a significant portion of the state’s economy. Hubbard warns that NOAA’s proposals could “cripple” the coastal economy, affecting shipping lanes and recreational boating fleets. He emphasizes that the proposed vessel speed limit of 10 knots (approximately 11-and-a-half miles an hour) is not only extremely slow but also unsafe. He argues that smaller recreational vessels wouldn’t have a significant impact on whale populations and that the proposed restrictions are unnecessary.

Limited Resources and Unexplained Mortality Events

Hubbard acknowledges the hard work of NOAA’s employees but points out that they are hamstrung by federal law and limited resources. Lack of funding and resources in the Southeast Fishery Science Center makes it difficult to conduct regular stock assessments on species like red snapper. Additionally, NOAA’s federal officers are spread thin across the entire southeast region, making it challenging to enforce regulations effectively.

Seeking a Better Approach

Hubbard questions NOAA’s focus on vessel speed restrictions as a solution to unexplained mortality events among whales. He believes that understanding the causes of these events should take precedence before imposing speed limits. Boaters and fishermen consider themselves stewards of the environment, striving to protect and conserve natural resources for future generations. They want to see whale populations thrive and are frustrated by regulations they perceive as lacking sufficient scientific basis.

NOAA’s Stance

NOAA, on the other hand, asserts that vessel strikes and entanglements are the primary drivers of right whale population decline. They cite five lethal right whale vessel strikes in U.S. waters during the past three years as evidence of the need for speed restrictions. NOAA emphasizes the vulnerability of North Atlantic right whales to vessel strikes, particularly females with calves, due to their frequent occurrence at near-surface depths.

In conclusion, the proposed vessel speed restrictions in Florida’s Gulf have sparked a debate between the fishing industry and marine conservationists. While the fishing industry argues that the restrictions lack scientific backing and would harm the coastal economy, conservationists maintain that vessel strikes and entanglements continue to threaten whale populations. Finding a balance between economic interests and environmental preservation remains a significant challenge for both parties involved.

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