ACTION

NOAA Fisheries seeks comment on a draft strategy to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and endangered North Atlantic right whales off the U.S. East Coast. The strategy is published as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The Strategy consists of the following five elements, in addition to conservation and management measures currently in place:

  • Identify operational measures for the shipping industry, including consideration of both seasonal and dynamic routing and speed restrictions
  • Negotiate a Right Whale Conservation Agreement with the Government of Canada
  • Develop and implement education and outreach programs;
  • Review the need for ESA section 7 consultations with all Federal agencies that operate or authorize the use of vessels in waters inhabited by right whales, or whose actions directly or indirectly affect vessel traffic
  • Continue existing research, conservation, and education/outreach activities.

Recommended operational measures, some regulatory and some nonregulatory, have been outlined fully in the strategy, and the agency seeks comment on their further development. As presented, they are based on results of a study commissioned by NMFS in 1999 to identify likely effective measures to reduce ship strikes of right whales along the U.S. Atlantic coast. The study was completed in 2001 and can be found at http://nero.noaa.gov/whaletrp/trt/shipstrike/index.htm

SUMMARY OF OPERATIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS

The U.S. East Coast is divided into three large subareas: Southeast U.S., Mid-Atlantic U.S., and Northeast U.S. Proposed operational measures generally rely on routing changes and speed reduction requirements. In and around major ports, the strategy includes further access studies to better tailor measures to likely traffic patterns, navigational issues, and right whale occurrences, perhaps leading to routing changes for parts of the year when right whales are present. For all areas where right whales are detected and no other specific measures are in place, the strategy includes "dynamic management areas," a way of restricting operations quickly if aggregations of right whales occur, but only for as long as they are present.

Southeastern U.S.

December 1st through March 31st

Regulatory

If warranted and so indicated by a Port Access Route Study (PARS), designated routes would be established with the greatest possibility of reducing the risk of collisions between vessels and whales.

Institute uniform seasonal speed restrictions in such designated routes during the time period indicated above, unless it is determined that there are no whales present in the area.

Develop an understanding with operators of vessels that primarily transit along the coast locally and between ports to use designated traffic lanes, avoid transiting the area, or conform to a uniform speed restriction.

Nonregulatory

Conduct a PARS for the Ports of Jacksonville, Fernandina, and Brunswick.

Mid-Atlantic U.S.

Time and areas vary by location, since this region is primarily a migratory route throughout the year for right whales. Nine sub-areas are identified in the strategy:

  • South and east of Block Island Sound (approximate reference points: Montauk Point and the western end of Martha's Vineyard): March-April; September-October
  • Ports of New York/New Jersey: Feb-April; September-October
  • Delaware Bay (Ports of Philadelphia and Baltimore): Feb-April; October-December
  • Entrance to the Chesapeake Bay: February-April; November-December
  • Ports of Morehead City and Beaufort, NC: December-April
  • Port of Wilmington, NC: December-April
  • Port of Georgetown, SC: October-April
  • Port of Charleston: October-April
  • Port of Savannah: November-April

Regulatory

Uniform speed restrictions within 20-30 nautical miles of the listed areas and ports

Northeastern US

Times and areas vary owing to right whale use of these areas. Right whales occupy and forage in four distinct areas in the NEUS: Cape Cod Bay; the area off Race Point at the northern end of Cape Cod (Race Point); the Great South Channel; and the northern Gulf of Maine.

Cape Cod Bay

January 1st - April 30th

Regulatory

If warranted and so indicated by a Port Access Route Study (PARS), designated routes would be established with the greatest possibility of reducing the risk of collisions between vessels and whales.

Institute uniform speed restrictions within designated ship traffic lanes into Provincetown, Massachusetts, if indicated through a PARS. Such restrictions would be lifted in those rare years when it is determined that there are no whales present in the area.

Nonregulatory

Conduct a PARS for Cape Cod Bay.

Provide notices and alerts to mariners transiting the Cape Cod Canal when right whales are present in and adjacent to the area.

Off Race Point

April 1st - May 15th

Regulatory

Uniform speed restriction in the described zone, or option to route around area.

Great South Channel

April 1st - July 31st

Regulatory

Identify and propose an Area to be Avoided (ATBA) for adoption by the International Maritime Organization (IMO)-- adjacent to, and east of, the Boston traffic separation scheme, applicable to all vessels greater than 300 GRT

Uniform speed restrictions for all vessels less than 300 grt or 65 ft in length or larger.

Northern Gulf of Maine

Year-around

Regulatory

All areas subject to dynamic area management.

AUTHORITIES

Both federal: The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act

DEFINITIONS


ANPR-Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:

A formal notice by a federal agency intended to solicit comment and information from all segments of the public interested in a particular issue PRIOR to the agency determining whether a proposed rule (regulation) is required.

PARS-Port Access Route Study:

A PARS is a USCG process whereby a study is performed to determine safe access routes for vessels proceeding to and from U.S. port.

IMO - International Maritime Organization:

A UN Agency tasked with ensuring safer shipping and cleaner oceans through international agreement. The U.S. negotiates traffic rules in international shipping lanes through the IMO.


Southeast U.S. Areas for Proposed Measure

Mid-Atlantic U.S. Areas for Proposed Measures

Northeast U.S. Areas for Proposed Measures

Dated:

___________________________________________

Rebecca Lent

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs,

National Marine Fisheries Service.

 

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