Rules requiring slowdown for whales meets resistance from pilots

US federal regulator the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has met some resistance for its push to enforce new vessel speed rules to help protect rare whales.

The NOAA announced the new proposed rules in July. They are designed to protect the last remaining North Atlantic right whales, which were massively overfished in the 19th century and have been an endangered species ever since.

The new, tougher, rules would expand seasonal slow zones off the US East Coast and, significantly, would require more vessels to comply with the rules.

The NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is holding a series of informational meetings on the new rules, including one scheduled for today, August 16th.

However, some shipping and maritime groups have expressed concern that the new rules could make their jobs more difficult or less safe. The American Pilots’ Association has said that the proposals would make operations more hazardous for pilot boats.

Clayton Diamond, executive director of the group, said that “we think that the NOAA/NMFS proposal to apply the speed restriction to pilot boats is unwise and unsafe”. He said that that the pilots’ group strongly supported protecting marine mammals.

Allison Ferreira, a NOAA spokesperson, said that “we take all comments into consideration in the development of final regulations,” but would not comment on individual groups’ responses.

The Chamber of Shipping of America has expressed concern that slowing down in bad weather could be dangerous for ships. Its president, Kathy Metcalf, said that the group “welcomes any new proposals as long as they are based on the best available facts.”

There are fewer than 340 right whales left and their numbers have been declining in recent years.

Two of the biggest threats faced by the remaining whales are ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Previous rule changes intended to aid the whales had focused on the American lobster fishing industry.

NOAA is also taking comments on the proposed ship rules until September 30th.