NOAA’s policy of notifying — but not necessarily citing — speeding vessels in protected areas along the East Coast was effective in lowering their speeds through these sensitive areas, protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whales from ship collisions, while keeping punitive fines to mariners to a minimum, according to a new study.
A NOAA regulation, instituted in December 2008, requires vessels 65 feet or greater in length to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less in areas seasonally occupied by the whales.
“We’ve shown that notifying the mariners of their responsibilities, along with issuing citations when applicable, results in widespread compliance,” said Donna Wieting, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. “We appreciate working with the industry as a trusted partner in conserving natural resources and endangered species.”
Cargo vessels showed the greatest improvement in compliance, followed by tankers and passenger vessels.
Scientists estimate that there are about 450 North Atlantic right whales alive today. NOAA scientists have not seen one that has been struck by a large vessel in the areas where the ship strike reduction rule applies, since it went into effect.
The seasonal speed restrictions apply between Nov. 1-April 30 in Block Island Sound, the ports of New York/New Jersey, the entrance to the Delaware Bay (includes ports of Philadelphia, Pa. and Wilmington, N.C.), the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay(includes ports of Hampton Roads, Va. and Baltimore, Md.), the ports of Morehead City and Beaufort, N.C., and a continuous area from 20 miles from shore between Wilmington, N.C. to south of Savannah, Ga.
In addition, restriction apply from Nov. 15-April 15 in an area extending from north of Brunswick, Ga., to south of Jacksonville, Fla.