A dangerous regulation has made its way to the final stage of the federal rule-making process and poses a significant threat to North Carolina’s economy, particularly along the coast. Under the proposed rule, introduced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recreational boats as small as 35 feet would be required to travel at 10 knots, the equivalent of about 11 miles per hour. Just think about that: North Carolina boats in the Atlantic would be reduced to the speed of a bicycle.

For businesses like mine, this proposal is a huge threat. I run a charter fishing business in Carolina Beach where I take tourists, families, and locals out on my boat to fish along North Carolina’s coast.

It would be a double whammy to my business. First, all trips would take longer, so I would need to charge customers extra for the increased time. Second, there would be far fewer customers. Many folks are happy to go on a partial or half-day fishing trip, but with these new regulations, any trip offshore will take so much time that I will be required to bring a second captain. The Gulfstream in this area is 50-60 miles offshore. At 10 knots, that would take 5 to 6 hours ONE way — 10 to 12 hours round trip. This proposal will make these trips unrunable. 

This rule isn’t just bad for my business, it would hurt our entire state’s economy. Recreational boating and fishing brings tourism to our state and billions of dollars of economic activity. In North Carolina, the recreational boating industry is responsible for $9.1 billion of economic impact annually. And supporting more than 1,000 businesses and 28,000 North Carolina jobs, the boating industry is a proven driver of economic growth and development in our state.

Every single day, for-hire fishing brings in $3,744+ dollars per boat to the local economy outside the cost of the trip, and 14,000 trips occur November through April. Taking away the ability of these businesses to conduct for-hire fishing trips will drain more than $52 million from our state’s economy every year, according to Dr. Christopher F. Dumas’s research in “Economic Impacts and Recreation Value of the North Carolina For‐Hire Fishing Fleet.” That’s $52,416,000 in LOST income for the state.

Even considering all of the problems this rule would pose for businesses, my biggest concern is that it would make boating less safe. Most of the small boats that would be impacted by this rule are not designed to operate at such low speeds, particularly during high winds and choppy waters. Without the necessary flexibility that boaters need to navigate rough conditions, their boats are at significant risk of capsizing — particularly worrisome given that many of these boats are family-owned.

I support NOAA’s goal of protecting endangered marine life, like the North Atlantic right whale. Anglers like me rely on safe and healthy waters. Unfortunately, this proposed rule is not the right way to protect wildlife. There is little data to suggest that the small recreational boats targeted by this rule are responsible for whale strikes. Also, there are better, more balanced tools to accomplish these goals. Innovative alternatives like real-time location monitoring can more effectively accomplish the goal of protecting endangered marine life rather than a blanket speed rule.

I want to do all I can to make sure that Americans can continue to see right whales long into the future. Armed with tools like real-time location monitoring services, boat operators like me will be able to maintain proper distances from marine life to ensure the safety of the animals and our crew.

As the Office of Management and Budget reviews this rule, they should send it back to NOAA to head back to the drawing board and retool their proposal. The government should come back with a balanced, thoughtful solution that preserves economic activity in our coastal communities, protects endangered marine life throughout the Atlantic coast, and most importantly, prioritizes boater safety.