A call from lawmakers thousands of miles from the Vineyard’s shores could spare the Island from new marine speed restrictions that would result in ferry service cuts. 

In 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed speed limits for large vessels across the eastern seaboard in order to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. The plan, which is currently under consideration, has been met with protests from the Steamship Authority and other ferry services to the Vineyard and Nantucket for the potentially devastating effects it could have on the Islands’ economies.

But just last week, a U.S. House of Representatives committee released a budget that includes a provision to prohibit funding for the enforcement of the speed rule. 

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nor any part of the Department of Commerce, to enforce any vessel speed restriction for the North Atlantic Right Whale that was not in place prior to January 20, 2021,” the budget rider in the 2025 fiscal year budget read.

Two other bills, in the House and the Senate, also seek to pause any enforcement. Both were sponsored by legislators outside of New England, and didn’t seem to directly take the Vineyard’s dilemma into account. 

Georgia U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter filed a bill last year in support of halting the rules and was joined by Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia independent, who put forth a similar bill in the senate.

The Georgia lawmaker was at the nation’s capital last week to support the bill. 

“The proposed rule will cause grave safety issues for recreational vessels and pilot vessels alike, as it presents a safety concern for traversing the shipping channels and safety issues at sea,” he testified before the House Natural Resources Committee.

If implemented, the new proposed rule from NOAA would require vessels between 35 and 65 feet in length to cruise at about 11.5 miles per hour while in waters inhabited by right whales. Both the Vineyard and Nantucket ferry routes would fall under the rule as it’s currently written.

Steamship ferries on the Vineyard route currently cruise at about 13 knots and they get to higher speeds on the Nantucket route. According to the Steamship Authority, the rule change would result in a loss of about one seventh of its roundtrips to the Vineyard. 

The ferry line would also face more significant cuts on the Nantucket-Hyannis route, resulting in an overall economic loss for the Steamship Authority. 

Hy-Line and Seastreak both only run fast ferries to the Islands, potentially putting their business model in peril, the companies have said. 

Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis met with the Massachusetts federal legislative delegation earlier this year to talk about the speed restrictions, among other issues. The ferry lines have campaigned for exceptions for Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound, two areas where the endangered whales rarely go. 

The area’s waters were previously subject to the slow-down rules, but only for vessels longer than 65 feet.