Florida fisherman reels over new boating speed limits to protect endangered whales: ‘It’s just unsafe’

NOAA explores boating speed limits off Atlantic, Gulf shores to protect right and Rice’s whales

Jetting out of Johns Pass to the emerald green Gulf seas off Florida’s coast nearly 200 times every day, Hubbard’s Marina Captain Dylan Hubbard claimed he’s never personally spotted a whale on any of his fishing charters.

"We offer a multitude of different trips on a multitude of different boats, and we've been in business for a really, really long time and I have been operating the company myself and operating many, many trips on the water often," Hubbard told Fox News Digital.

"And in my lifetime," the captain continued, "there has been one whale that washed ashore here in Madeira Beach, being stranded, and that was a natural mortality event, [it] wasn't a boat strike."

Hubbard represents just one of the thousands of business and marine tourism industry leaders sounding off on proposals being examined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enforce speed regulations in hopes to preserve North Atlantic rights and Rice’s whale populations.


Two separate proposals were brought by nonprofits and lobbyists to NOAA impacting Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic shorelines, respectively: NOAA Fisheries opened public comment on a year-round rule establishing a 10-knot vessel speed limit in the Rice’s whale’s core habitat, but they’ve moved forward with the same proposed vessel speed limit for the entire East Coast of the United States to protect right whales from boat-related injuries or death.

Dylan Hubbard on NOAA speed limits

Captain Dylan Hubbard, Hubbard’s Marina co-owner in Madeira Beach, Florida, discusses his "biggest concerns" about NOAA-proposed boating speed limits with Fox News Digital. (Fox News)

The announced changes for the eastern coastline expand the current mandatory seasonal speeding regulations and extends to vessels between 35 and 65 feet in length.

According to Hubbard, the blame on the fishing and boating industry for whale deaths has been misplaced by NOAA. He also estimated that 75,000 public comments were filed in reaction to the potential Gulf-side speeding limit.

"NOAA has not made any movement on Rice's whales. NOAA hasn't even finished designating a critical habitat for Rice's whales," Hubbard said. "NOAA scientists have said that they're not even sure if the animal can recover, that there might be too few of this animal already."

Data and research collected by the agency hold vessel strikes and equipment entanglement as the primary causes of right whale deaths. NOAA researchers reportedly found that identifiable right whale deaths from 2003 to 2018 were "all" attributable to human activity.

On the other hand, Rice’s whales weren’t given their current species name by NOAA until 2021. When hearing about the potential Gulf of Mexico speeding restrictions, Hubbard claimed he "laughed" due to research on Rice’s whales being in "very early stages."

"I never thought in a million years it would get the consideration it's gotten because it's so ill-conceived. It's so early on, and it's not backed by any science remotely," Hubbard said. "They don't have the information they need to really do this sort of rulemaking. Ten knots is 11-and-a-half miles an hour, which is extremely slow, and it's just unsafe."

"A very small recreational vessel isn't going to have an impact on one of these whales," the captain continued. "So for the petitioners to assert that a recreational vessel that's less than 120-foot on average, and it's going to have a very shallow draft, to assert that we could hit one of these whales and not know about it is absurd. It's asinine. It's heinous because if a recreational vessel was to hit one of these whales, the boat's going to sink."


In Florida alone, outdoor recreation – including boating and fishing – accounts for 3.3% of the state economy annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Hubbard warned that NOAA’s proposals would "cripple" the coastal economy.

"These are huge, very active shipping lanes that would be severely impacted by this. Those big ships can travel much faster than 10 knots. So for them to have to slow down in this huge area of the Gulf of Mexico and, potentially, if this expands to the entire Gulf of Mexico, again, crippling our shipping industry in the Gulf plus our recreational boating fleet, it's just such a huge economic driver for this entire southeast region, for our entire Gulf Coast, for all five Gulf states," Hubbard explained.

"It would just really put a huge damper on our economy and our local coastal communities and our working waterfronts. It would be a huge detriment to our culture, our society, and a big loss because it creates a huge safety impact for us," he added.

The fourth-generation family fisherman gave credit to those at NOAA who are "really hard-working, good people," but hamstrung by federal law and declining resources which limits science and research completed in southeast federal waters.

"We are unable to get regular stock assessments on species like red snapper, which is one of the most highly sought-after recreational targets in the Gulf of Mexico. We can't get stock assessments on this species but every 5 to 7 years, because of the lack of funding and resources in the Southeast Fishery Science Center," Hubbard said.

"NOAA only has around 35 federal officers to the entire southeast," he also pointed out. "That means from North Carolina to Brownsville, Texas, that whole coastline and across the entire Gulf, across the entire southeast region and our Caribbean islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico – there's 35 federal officers. It's a joke. It's absolutely crazy that this is allowed to continue."

"We need more enforcement. We need more science, and we need to make better decisions based on science."

- Cpt. Dylan Hubbard

Both NOAA and Hubbard recognize that the right whale deaths have been part of an unusual mortality event since 2017, which is defined by the science agency as a "significant die-off of a marine mammal population." But, no cause or reason for the unusual deaths has been identified.

"So if we're having unexplained mortality events, why are you looking to impose a vessel speed restriction? Why don't you figure out the unexplained mortality events first?" Hubbard posited.


"Boaters, fishermen, we are huge stewards of our natural resources. We want to see these whales propagate. We want to see our natural environment succeed and proliferate because we want to continue to enjoy the outdoors," he continued. "Hunters and fishermen are the biggest conservationists you're going to need because we want our kids to be able to do what we do and enjoy what we do. And we work really hard to preserve, protect and conserve that. So it's really, really frustrating when these sort of regulations go into place."

NOAA told Fox News Digital that during the past three years alone, NOAA Fisheries has documented five lethal right whale vessel strikes in U.S. waters. A spokesperson claimed these events are "impeding the species' recovery and contributing to the population's decline."

"Vessel strikes and entanglements continue to drive the population’s decline and are the primary cause of serious injuries and mortalities," the NOAA spokesperson wrote in a statement. "North Atlantic right whales are especially vulnerable to vessel strikes due to their coastal distribution and frequent occurrence at near-surface depths. This is particularly true for females with calves."