Vessel Speed Restrictions Proposed to Protect Endangered Right Whales

Ferries and charter boats could move a lot slower in Rhode Island during the off-season if federal regulators accept new nautical speed limits to protect an endangered species of whale.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have proposed restricting existing nautical speed limits to 10 knots per hour for all vessels greater than 35 feet in length. If approved, the new rule would go into effect between Nov. 1 and May 30 and apply to all vessels sailing along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusetts to North Carolina – including all of Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound.

The rule is intended to curb the amount of vessel strikes on the Atlantic’s already limited right whale population, which is close to extinction. NOAA estimates at least four right whales have died from colliding with marine vessels since 2017.

“The biggest impact to charter boats is the loss of fishing time for our clients,” said Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association. “If we’re driving 10 miles an hour instead of 15, that’s 5 miles of travel every hour. It could be a half hour or an hour each day of less fishing and more driving.”

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