EDITORIAL

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SEEKING BALANCE

By Karen Wall

“… I don’t know why
I go to extremes
Too high or too low
There ain’t no in-betweens
And if I stand or I fall
It’s all or nothing at all
Darlin’ I don’t know why
I go to extremes.”

   Though Billy Joel was singing about a relationship, going to extremes seems to be the popular destination for so many these days, whether you’re talking about crazy drivers, misbehaving customers or – the one that concerns most of us – government regulators.
  For more than a year, we’ve been tracking this proposed 10-knot speed restriction along the East Coast of the United States, a move by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to try to prevent the deaths of North Atlantic right whales.
  The whales are critically endangered. That’s a fact that is not in dispute. The best way to protect the whales, however, is a matter of significant disagreement.
  That’s because of NOAA’s proposal to expand mandatory speed restricted zones – and the number of boats they apply
to – exponentially.
  The proposed rules would make it mandatory for any boat over 35 feet to have to slow to 10 knots or fewer if right whales are detected in the area outside the “seasonal management zones.”
  “NOAA’s changes to its North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) Vessel Strike Reduction Rule would devastate our industry,” officials with Viking said. “The restriction would be in place seven months out of the year and extend in some cases 90 miles offshore. It would put boater safety at risk, raise privacy concerns, severely limit access to the Atlantic Ocean and devastate coastal economies.”
  The rule is being considered by the federal Office of Management and Budget.
  The rule is no different than previous extreme responses by NOAA to fisheries issues. Instead of taking a nuanced approach and addressing other elements of the problem, NOAA breaks out
a sledgehammer.
  There are serious problems that have not been addressed, including holding large vessels – the ones that are more than 65 feet long and already subject to the speed restrictions – accountable when they violate those rules.
  A study by Oceana – not exactly a friend of the boating industry by any stretch – that looked at two years’ worth of data found that 84 percent of boats 65 feet or longer sped through mandatory seasonal slow zones, according to a report by New Jersey Monitor. In voluntary slow zones, 82 percent of vessels were above the 10-knot limit.
  If vessel operators know they won’t be held accountable for exceeding the restrictions, what good are they?
  The answer isn’t to punish the smaller boats for the sins of the massive ones by tightening the rules on them.
  Viking, in a message to owners of its sportfishing boats, is urging people to contact their Congressional representatives to speak against the expanded speed restrictions.
  “The Whale and Vessel Safety (WAVS) Task Force, a Viking initiative, has made great strides to protect the NARW through science, technology and communication,” it said in the message to owners.
  “The ocean is our livelihood, and no one cares more about it than boat owners and anglers,” Pat Healey, Viking president and CEO, said. “The best approach has been, and always will be, to use technology to track and protect the whales – not to deny access to our oceans. NOAA should be leaning on us for guidance and input because this is our field of expertise.”
  Going to extreme measures never has the results that are sought, especially when they are extreme rules put in place by the government. All you have to do is look back at Prohibition for a prime example of how extreme measures fail.
  NOAA has tried extreme measures in the past, too, such as how they responded to data that wanted to cut the summer flounder fishery to 5 million pounds in 2005, in spite of information showing its data was full of
significant gaps.
  It took the fishing industry coming together to find answers that proved the gaps existed to avert a destructive action by NOAA.
  It’s going to take active involvement from fishermen to avert this destruction as well. You can help by filling out a letter that will go to your member of Congress, urging them to give it some thought.
  The letter urges Congress to request a meeting with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to “direct NOAA to work with the recreational marine community to research, develop and utilize technology to monitor and track the right whale and prevent vessel strikes.”
  Click the link below (if you’re reading this online) or type the link into your browser to send letters to your representative.
  https://www.boatingunited.org/take-action/congress-protect-boaters-speed-restrictions/

whale in surf
Whale deaths have been a hot topic for the last two years, with much of the focus on concerns about offshore wind programs. Vessel strikes have been blamed in many of the deaths, including that of this humpback whale that washed up in Seaside Park, New Jersey. With North Atlantic right whales critically endangered, boat strikes are gaining notice. NOAA wants to take extreme measures to try to prevent them.
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