SCBFA submits comments opposing new speed regulations

November 8, 2022

(Photo Courtesy of Tidewater Boats)

The South Carolina Boating & Fishing Alliance submitted formal comments last week to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) asking the agencies to pause the proposed speed restriction due to the lack of industry input, scientific rationale, and the disregard of constitutional, administrative, and public policy concerns.

The new rule would expand the 10-knot (11.5 mph) speed restriction to vessels 35 feet and greater, expand the speed restriction zones, and extend the time the regulations are in effect to roughly six months (Nov. 1 – April 15). This is all to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) population. The problem: Despite repeated requests by the S.C. Boating and Fishing Alliance, NMFS has been unable to identify a single instance of a 35-foot to 65-foot boat striking a right whale off the South Carolina coast.

With public input and industry insight, the SCBFA Ownership Group, Chairman Chris Butler, and CEO Gettys Brannon sent a letter to NOAA expressing the industry’s concerns. The proposed rule puts the boating and fishing industry, a crucial economic source for states along the east coast, at risk. Read Entire Letter

Here are some key points from the letter:

No Authority

  • NOAA lacks the authority to enforce the proposed rule. 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled countless times that federal agencies only have regulatory authority granted to them by Congress.
  • Enforcing this rule would be a vast bureaucratic overreach and utterly unconstitutional.

No Facts

  • The proposal is trying to restrict something that has never happened. 
  • NMFS has only identified one NAWR vessel strike in South Carolina waters. The incident occurred in 2011. The vessel was over 65 feet long, and its speed is unknown. 
  • NMFS has yet to identify one incident involving a vessel 35’- 65’ anywhere in the offshore waters from Georgia to New Jersey. 

No Logic

  • Decreasing the speed will increase the risk — with decreased speed larger surface area will be in the water.
  • By drastically reducing the speed, the vessels subjected to the new regulation would have an increased chance of exposure to NARWs and prolong the duration of the exposure. 

Save the Whales or the Climate?

  • NFMS claimed its proposal would support the Biden Administration’s climate change agenda by reducing fossil fuel emissions.
  • NOAA has no authority to regulate fuel consumption, emissions, or climate change considerations.

Economic Risk

  • Recreational fishing generates billions of dollars on the east coast.
  • The fishing trips that would be affected by the proposed regulation would negatively impact the $5.1 billion boating and fishing industry in South Carolina.
  • The charter fishing industry would dry up because there would no longer be a demand.
  • NMMA has reported a loss of $8 million in sales due to the risk of the regulation.
  • In-state sales of fishing equipment, marinas, and dock builders would plummet.
  • South Carolina’s hospitality and tourism industry – one of the state’s most vital sources of revenue – will suffer greatly due to the lack of participation.
  • Local communities that rely heavily on tax revenue from the industry would see a drastic reduction in revenue.

Lives are at Risk

  • The proposed restriction would not allow for single-day outings, leading to overnight stays on the water by multiple occupants, many of whom are not adequately trained for those circumstances.
  • Prolonging the trips also increases the risk of encountering dangerous weather. 

Violates the Constitution

  • Congress holds the authority to issue regulatory rights to federal agencies, which NOAA lacks with the proposed regulation. 
  • Using AIS data to determine vessel types and sizes violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure. 


Hiding Information

  • The proposed regulation has yet to appear on the rulemaking docket or the agency’s website. 
  • NOAA and NMFS failed to make the most basic information about the proposed regulation available to the public during the August public meetings and again in September after receiving a letter from SCBFA requesting an extension of the public comment period. 
  • NMFS representatives acknowledged the lack of information in materials available for public review. 

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