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NOAA Fisheries Denies Petition to Establish a Mandatory Speed Limit and Other Vessel-Related Mitigation Measures to Protect Endangered Rice’s Whales in the Gulf of Mexico

October 27, 2023

FB23-079: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For more information, contact: Clay George, 912-766-0087, clay.george@noaa.gov

Key Messages:

  • NOAA Fisheries denied a petition from several non-government organizations to establish a mandatory 10-knot speed limit and other vessel related mitigation measures to protect endangered Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico and will not proceed with rulemaking at this time.
  • 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.
  • NOAA Fisheries requested public comment on the petition from April 7 to July 6, 2023, and we received approximately 75,500 comments.
  • With likely fewer than 100 individuals remaining, Rice’s whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Why did NOAA Fisheries deny the petition and what’s next?

  • We are denying the petition because we are prioritizing other conservation actions for Rice’s whales: finalizing critical habitat for the species, conducting additional vessel risk assessments, and developing a recovery plan for the species.
  • Recovery planning will allow us to holistically consider and prioritize future actions. The process allows the agency to evaluate the species’ needs, set goals for recovery, and outline the path and tasks required to restore and secure a self-sustaining wild population. 
  • Recovery plans are non-regulatory documents that describe, justify, and schedule the research and management actions necessary to support recovery of a species. Consequently, this process is critically important to determine the next steps towards recovery of the Rice’s whale.
  • We also agree with the commenters who stated that education and outreach should occur with fishermen, vessel operators, and other stakeholders to discuss voluntary protection measures, before considering regulatory measures.


What does a denial of the petition mean?

  • It means NOAA Fisheries is not proceeding with rulemaking to develop vessel speed restrictions or other vessel-related regulations for Rice’s whales at this time. 


What actions has NOAA Fisheries completed to date to support Rice’s whale recovery? 

  • NOAA Fisheries has completed a number of conservation and recovery actions, including listing the Rice’s whale as endangered under the ESA, completing a recovery outline for the species, conducting a virtual recovery workshop, and publishing a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the species under the ESA. 
  • NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners have conducted studies on Rice’s whale biology, distribution, habitat use, and threats.


What additional conservation and recovery actions is NOAA Fisheries undertaking?

  • NOAA Fisheries is undertaking additional conservation and recovery actions, including finalizing the critical habitat designation for Rice’s whales, developing a draft Rice’s whale recovery plan, implementing Deepwater Horizon restoration projects, conducting additional vessel risk assessments, and developing conservation measures during the ESA section 7 consultation process with other Federal agencies.


Where can I find more information on this petition?


By Mail: Clay George

NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office

Protected Resources Division

263 13th Avenue South

St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505

By FAX: (727) 824-5308

By Phone: (912) 766-0087


NOAA's Text Message Alert Program allows you to receive important fishery related alerts via text message (SMS).  Standard message & data rates may apply. You may opt-out at any time.

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Sign up for one or more of the following groups:

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Quick Glance Contact List for the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office

Permits Mailbox: The Permits Office in St. Petersburg, FL now has a Permits mailbox in the front lobby (263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701). You can now drop off original permits for permit transfers.  Envelopes with information labels will be provided so that your documents can be attached to the correct application.  The mailbox will be checked daily.  For more information contact the Permits Office at 877-376-4877.

Other contacts:

Media Contact: Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750  

Recreational Fishing Coordinator: Sean Meehan, 727-385-5202

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on October 27, 2023