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DOC/NOAA RIN: 0648-BI88 Publication ID: Fall 2023 
Title: Amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule 

NMFS published a proposed rule to amend the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule (per 50 CFR 224.105; 87 FR 46921, August 1, 2022). NMFS proposed this action to further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions, which are a leading cause of the species’ decline and a primary factor in an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event. The proposed rule would 1) modify the spatial and temporal boundaries of current speed restriction areas, currently referred to as Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs), 2) include most vessels greater than or equal to 35 ft (10.7 m) and less than 65 ft (19.8 m) in length in the vessel size class subject to speed restriction, 3) create a Dynamic Speed Zone framework to implement mandatory speed restrictions when whales are known to be present outside active SMAs, and 4) update the speed rule’s safety deviation provision. The proposed amendments to current speed regulations reduce vessel strike risk based on a coast wide collision mortality risk assessment and updated information on right whale distribution, vessel traffic patterns, and vessel strike mortality and serious injury events. NMFS solicited public comment on the proposed action and received over 90,000 public comments. The agency plans to take final action on the proposed rule in 2023.

Agency: Department of Commerce(DOC)  Priority: Other Significant 
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Final Rule Stage 
Major: No  Unfunded Mandates: No 
CFR Citation: 50 CFR 224   
Legal Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.    16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.   
Legal Deadline:  None

Statement of Need:

This action is needed to further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered North Atlantic right whales from vessel collisions, which are a leading cause of the species’ decline and contributing to the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (2017 - present). Following two decades of growth, the species has been in decline over the past decade with a best population estimate of fewer than 350 individuals. Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are the two primary causes of North Atlantic right whale mortality and serious injury across their range, and human-caused mortality to adult females, in particular, is limiting recovery of the species.

Summary of the Legal Basis:

NMFS is implementing this rule pursuant to its rulemaking authority under MMPA section 112(a) (16 U.S.C. 1382(a)), and ESA section 11(f) (16 U.S.C. 1540(f)).


In January 2021, NMFS released, and solicited public comment on, an assessment of the current right whale vessel speed rule (50 CFR 224.105). The assessment highlighted the need to address collision risk from vessels less than 65 ft in length and modify the boundaries and timing of Seasonal Management Areas (SMAs) to better reflect current whale and vessel traffic distribution, along with other recommendations to improve vessel strike mitigation efforts. In 2022, NMFS completed a coastwide right whale vessel strike risk model (Garrison et al. 2022), which informed development of proposed modifications to the existing speed rule. The proposed rule considered number of alternatives in the draft Regulatory Impact Review and draft Environmental Assessment. The Preferred Alternative would modify the spatial and temporal boundaries of the existing SMAs to create newly proposed Seasonal Speed Zones (SSZs), add smaller vessels down to 35 ft in length, and establish a mandatory Dynamic Speed Zone program.

Anticipated Costs and Benefits:

Under the Preferred Alternative, NMFS estimated modifications to the speed rule would cost just over $46 million per year. Estimated costs would be borne primarily by the owners and operators of vessels currently transiting within newly expanded portions of SSZs along the U.S. East Coast. Owners and operators of vessels of applicable size classes that regularly transit within active SSZs at speeds in excess of 10 knots would be most affected. Vessels operating in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are expected to bear the majority of costs (89 percent) if the proposed modifications are finalized. Potential benefits stemming from this action include a reduction in North Atlantic right whale mortalities and serious injuries resulting from collisions with vessels, with potential reduction in vessel strike risk for other large whale species.


This action is essential to ensure long-term recovery of North Atlantic right whales. The proposed modifications to the current speed rule are designed to: 1) address a misalignment between existing Seasonal Management Areas and places/times with elevated strike risk, and 2) mitigate currently unregulated lethal strike risk from vessels 35-65 ft in length. Given the endangered status of the North Atlantic right whale, the large geographic area, and the number of stakeholders and potentially regulated entities, final modifications to the current speed rule is of high interest.

Action Date FR Cite
NPRM  08/01/2022  87 FR 46921   
NPRM Comment Period End  09/30/2022 
NPRM Comment Period Extension  09/16/2022  87 FR 56925   
NPRM Comment Period Extension End  10/31/2022 
Final Action  12/00/2023 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Yes  Government Levels Affected: None 
Small Entities Affected: Businesses  Federalism: No 
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes 
RIN Data Printed in the FR: Yes 
Related RINs: Related to 0648-AS36 
Agency Contact:
Kim Damon-Randall
Director, Office of Protected Resources
Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1315 East-West Highway,
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone:301 427-8400