Florida Ports Council signals concern over proposed NOAA rule that would impact seaports

by | Jun 28, 2023



  • The Florida Ports Council is concerned about proposed regulations by the NOAA that could restrict operations at four key seaports in Florida.
  • The regulations aim to protect a newly discovered whale population in the Gulf of Mexico and include a ban on nighttime vessel traffic and reductions in daytime vessel speeds.
  • Agency leaders contend that enforcement of the proposed rule would hamper port operations, subsequently disrupting their collective value to the state’s economy. 

The Florida Ports Council (FPC) is sounding the alarm over newly proposed regulations by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which it claims would constrain operations at four seaports across the state’s waterways.

Under the NOAA’s proposed rule, stringent measures would be implemented along navigable waters from Pensacola to Tampa Bay, specifically targeting Port Tampa Bay, SeaPort Manatee, Port Panama City, and Port of Pensacola. The regulations include a complete ban on nighttime vessel traffic and significant reductions in daytime vessel speeds.

NOAA’s rationale behind these measures is to protect a recently discovered whale population, estimated to be between 50 and 100 in number, known to traverse the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico.

In arguing against the proposal, the FPC underscored the economic contribution of the state’s ports, which accounts for 13.3 percent of Florida’s GDP. In 2022, the ports handled 112.5 million tons of cargo, a record, including 4,310,054 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs).

“It’s as if NOAA wants Florida to hang up a ‘closed for business’ sign,” said Mike Rubin, Florida Ports Council president and CEO. “Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seaports play an enormous role in fueling Florida, and are essential suppliers of everything from food to medical supplies, and construction materials to build homes, roads and make ongoing hurricane repairs in Southwest Florida.”

The agency further contended that the rule would directly impact all cargo operations at Port Tampa Bay, affecting more than 6,400 ships that visited the port during the period of enforcement.

Similarly, SeaPort Manatee would face challenges, with 33.4 percent of ship traffic and 10 percent of fuel vessels subject to potential disruptions. Port Panama City, responsible for 2.03 million tons of cargo in 2022, and the Port of Pensacola, would also face potential adverse effects on local economies and employment, per FPC leaders.

Florida’s ports received 112.5 million tons of cargo received in 2022, an all-time high and a six percent increase compared to the year prior. An economic impact report also disclosed that cargo and cruise activities supported 900,000 direct and indirect jobs across the state. In 2022, the state’s seaports handled 4,310,054 TEUs, 26.1 million container tons, 22.4 million dry bulk tons, 54.8 million liquid bulk tons, 9.03 million breakbulk tons, 631,157 vehicles, and 10.7 million cruise passengers.

The Port of Miami, one of the largest economic outputs in Miami-Dade County, experienced a growth of approximately 73 percent in operating revenues last year from $99.4 million to $172.4 million. The port’s top trading partners are China, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

Serving as Florida’s largest container port and one of the nation’s top vehicle-handling ports, the Port of Jacksonville, played a significant economic role in the city’s incoming revenue. Cargo activity through Jacksonville’s seaport supported 138,000 jobs and facilitated $31 billion in annual economic impact for the region and state last year.

State leaders plan to allocate $3.9 billion through Capital Improvement Plans (CIP) beginning in Fiscal Year 2023 and extending through 2027. The largest planned investments in the current CIP are for Berth Rehabilitation and Repairs ($774 million), Site Improvements ($703 million), Cargo Terminals ($698 million), and Cruise Terminals ($636 million).

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