NOAA rejects vessel speeding restrictions in Florida waters

by | Oct 27, 2023

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has denied a proposal to implement speeding restrictions on vessels. 
  • The proposal was opposed by the Florida Ports Council and state lawmakers. 
  • 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.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Friday rejected a petition for vessel speeding restrictions — a proposal that was met with opposition from the Florida Ports Council and state lawmakers.

Under the NOAA’s proposed rule, brought forth by non-government organizations, measures would have been implemented along navigable waters from Pensacola to Tampa Bay, specifically targeting Port Tampa Bay, SeaPort Manatee, Port Panama City, and Port of Pensacola. The proposal included 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.

“We have concluded that fundamental conservation tasks, including finalizing the critical habitat designation, drafting a species recovery plan, and conducting a quantitative vessel risk assessment, are all needed before we consider vessel regulations,” wrote the NOAA.

Following the ruling, Sen. Rick Scott lauded the agency’s decision.

“NOAA‘s rejection of the 10-knot speeding rule, which hurts boaters & threatens national security, is a big win for Florida,” said Scott. “For months, I’ve been calling on NOAA to reject this proposed rule, which was not based on science & is bad for our state.”

In arguing against the proposal, the FPC underscored the economic contribution of the state’s ports, which account 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 enforcement period.

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.


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