🌊 Boats are going too fast and hurting or killing marine mammals, advocates say

🌊 NJ Congressman Frank Pallone wants better enforcement of speeding rules

🌊 NOAA says speed-rule compliance is high

Wind turbine development off the New Jersey coast is on the back burner right now, but officials and advocates remain concerned about marine mammal deaths.

They're calling for real enforcement of rules put in place 15 years ago, which set speed limits on large vessels that are traveling through certain areas of the open sea.

"Time is of the essence before the North Atlantic right whale reaches a point of no return," said John Weber, senior field representative for Oceana.

According to research by the advocacy organization, the majority of vessels 65 feet and longer are failing to comply with speed rules that are in place to protect marine mammals. In the area of the Port of New York and New Jersey, noncompliance is at 86%, Weber said.

"The conclusion of the report is clear: boats are speeding and whales are dying," Weber said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, vessel strikes and entanglements in fishing gear have caused at least three-quarters of all deaths and injuries of the North Atlantic right whale since 2017.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most endangered large whale species, according to NOAA.

Letter to NOAA and Coast Guard

In a letter dated Jan. 4, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. 6th District, called on NOAA and the Coast Guard to truly enforce speeding restrictions on large vessels such as cargo ships.

"Scientists are hopeful that the North Atlantic right whale population can rebound, particularly if mothers and calves which reside silently at the surface of the water receive a chance to live and grow without being injured or killed by offending operators of large commercial ships and mega yachts," Pallone wrote.

Climate change has been warming the waters, bringing whales closer to shore and making them more likely to interact with boats.

Unusual mortality event

The right whale species is battling an "unusual mortality event," according to experts. The problem has received a lot of attention recently due to environmentalists' concerns about the impact of offshore wind development.

In the fall, the Danish energy company Orsted pulled out of a project to build turbines off the New Jersey coast.

In an emailed comment to New Jersey 101.5, NOAA said it has assessed nearly $1 million in civil penalties in 2022 and 2023 alone, across 56 cases that violated the 10-knots-or-less rule.

And NOAA argues that compliance with regulations is actually high. NOAA maintains an interactive dashboard specifically devoted to the rules.

"We also provide the public with the information they need to comply with rules," NOAA said. "Since 2018, we have sent approximately 1,000 compliance letters to vessel owners along the Atlantic coast about the current vessel speed rule and the potential penalties for violations."

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