Proposed rule would devastate NC coastal economy and businesses


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  • “If that boat is over 35 feet, now during large portions of the year, it needs to only go the speed of a bicycle. So this is unprecedented,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The Biden Administration is considering implementing a rule proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) that trade groups worry could have a devastating impact on the economy of North Carolina’s coastal region and businesses across the state that support it. 

Proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) Vessel Strike Reduction Rule would restrict vessels greater than or equal to 35 feet (10.7 m) and less than 65 feet (19.8 m) in length to 10 knots (roughly 11 mph) along much of the Eastern Seaboard during the endangered whales’ migration and calving season, from November to May.

The US Department of Commerce advanced the NARW to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in March, where it still sits but could be passed any day, and that has Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Washington DC and others gravely concerned. 

NMMA is the leading trade group for the recreational boating community, including boat and engine manufacturers, and suppliers. Hugelmeyer told Carolina Journal in a phone interview that the group has 1400 members from every state and is a $230 billion economic contributor to the $1 trillion outdoor recreation economy. If passed, NARW would put 812,000 jobs at risk and tremendously impact the $84 billion coastal economy.

under “the cloak of bureaucracy”

He said the rule’s implementation would directly affect the recreational boating industry’s $9.1 billion impact in North Carolina, which includes over 1,000 businesses, including Regulator Marine, Edenton, and Bass Pro Shops and White River Marine Group, which purchased Hatteras, Inc., New Bern, and 28,000 jobs.  

Hugelmeyer added that there are 384,000 registered boats in North Carolina, with annual boat sales in the billions of dollars. He said none of those figures include tourism.

He also said a lot of what transpired with the rule has been done under “the cloak of bureaucracy” with no involvement with the industry sector, which he says has a long history of leading conservation efforts around clean waters, healthy fisheries, and wildlife protection because of the vested interest they have in their consumers.

 “We have one of the most important industries in the country, and it’s a very dominant Made-in-America industry sector,” Hugelmeyer said. “So the fact that this moved through NOAA without any engagement with the largest stakeholder that’s most impacted by the rule is pretty stunning when you think about it, but that’s where we are, and why we are extremely disappointed and now bordering on seriously alarmed that it is moved to the point where it’s in the White House at the final stages of the regulatory process, and if it moves to the next step, it actually becomes law of the land.”

The proposal would affect boats from Massachusetts to Central Florida and would extend as far as 90 miles offshore for up to seven months. 

“So, the impact for anyone who’s in tourism, anyone who’s in charge of boat fishing, anyone who has recreational boating, let’s say dolphin tours outside of Calabash, or if you go to the charter, you could pick just community after community up the coast of North Carolina,” he said. “If that boat is over 35 feet, now during large portions of the year, it needs to only go the speed of a bicycle. So this is unprecedented.”

“you’re literally putting human lives at risk”

Hugelmeyer said human safety is also being overlooked if the Whale Rule takes effect. 

“The other piece that’s playing out here, which is being completely overlooked, is how dangerous this is for human life, going 10 knots in open seas in worsening weather in open hole boats,” Hugelmeyer said. “Now, in the way these boats are designed to outrun bad weather, they’re designed to be on plane, so they’re on top of the water, you’ve got great visibility. If you force a boat or a family to be traveling in that in an inlet or outside of it in these currents and open ocean, you’re literally putting human lives at risk, and that has not been contemplated at all within this rule.” 

Hugelmeyer said what’s also alarming is NOAA is going back several years and issuing fines for people who went through existing speed zones, using tracking of Automatic Identification System (AIS) safety systems. Those fines can range from $10,000 to $30,000. He said those actions are a huge red flag for privacy and constitutional issues. 

He said there is no data that recreational boats are the reason that the right whale is on the verge of extinction when, in fact, the whaling industry is to blame, and NOAA’s own data shows there has only been one documented whale strike in the past 15 years. Large boats over 260 feet, he said, are the ones that would drive the most fatalities. 

Hugelmeyer said boats, including recreational boats, are already equipped with sonar and radar. These boats also have an enormous number of digital and computer navigational tools on board. NMMA is also working with the National Marine Electronics Association to advance technologies in this area. 

Huglemeyer said NMMA’s goal is to have the White House withdraw the NARW and begin working with the industry. 

“There is actually legislation that we’ve proposed that would solve this,” he said. “There’s a bipartisan act called the Protecting Whales, Human Safety, and the Economy Act of 2023 which would prohibit NOAA from issuing the current rule which would be damaging and fast track the technologies that have been recently authorized by Congress to better track whales and avoid vessel strikes.”

A bipartisan congressional contingent, including North Carolina Republican US Sens. Ted Budd and Thom Tillis, and Congressmen Don Davis, D, NC-01, Greg Murphy, R, NC-03, and David Rouzer, R, NC-07, sent a letter to NOAA and OMB, expressing concern and requesting a meeting with the agencies.

“They’re trying to save an endangered species, but it’s a false choice”

Carolina Journal reached out to Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, current Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor, Josh Stein, and current Lt. Gov. and Republican candidate for governor, Mark Robinson for comment on the seriousness of the matter to North Carolina businesses. A Robinson spokesman was the only one who responded.

“This is yet another example of the Biden-Stein agenda that puts far-left political activists ahead of helping our communities grow and thrive,” the spokesman said. “If implemented, this overly burdensome rule could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact up and down the East Coast – including right here in North Carolina, which would be absolutely devastating for our coastal communities already struggling under the weight of Bidenomics. As governor, Mark Robinson will stand up to President Biden’s far-left agenda and fight extremist policies like this that threaten jobs that are vital to North Carolina’s economy.” 

Hugelmeyer said the White House may take action on the rule before May 22 because it is eligible for the Congressional Review Act after that date.

He advises anyone who is concerned about the rule taking effect to call their member of Congress or The White House.

“At the end of the day, what NOAA’s trying to do is noble,” Hugelmeyer said. “They’re trying to save an endangered species, but it’s a false choice to believe that you have to choose between conservation and economic prosperity for the entire Atlantic coastal region. You can do both.”