Posted on Dec 21, 2023 in Announcements, Boat Harbors, Commercial Activities, Fishing Activities, Main, Ocean Recreation Activities
Message for Hawaiʻi boaters from NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Regional Office:

Subject: Humpback Whale Approach Regulations in Hawaiʻi

NOAA Fisheries is finalizing the interim final rule, “Approach Regulations for Humpback Whales in Waters Surrounding the Islands of Hawaiʻi under the Marine Mammal Protection Act” through the publication of a final rule. The regulations remain the same as published under the interim final rule, with clarification to two of the exceptions to the prohibitions. The final rule amends regulatory language in the exceptions to specify the scope of activities that may apply to federal, state and local governments performing official duties and to clarify the scope of NOAA-permitted or authorized activities as to not prevent the issuance of permits or authorizations consistent with the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The regulations continue to apply to humpback whales in the waters within 200 nautical miles from the shores of the islands of Hawaiʻi. These islands consist of the entire Hawaiian Archipelago: the main Hawaiian Islands (Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Niʻihau) and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The regulations also continue to prohibit:
• Operating an aircraft within 1,000 feet of a humpback whale
• Approaching within 100 yards of a humpback whale by any means
• Causing a vessel, person or other object to approach within 100 yards of a humpback whale
• Approaching a humpback whale by interception (i.e., placing an aircraft, vessel, person, or other object in the path of a humpback whale so that the whale approaches within a restricted distance)
• Disrupting the normal behavior or prior activity of a humpback whale by any act or omission

Exceptions to the regulations include:
• Federal, State, or local government vessels, personnel, and assets when necessary in the course of performing official duties
• Vessel operations necessary to avoid an imminent and serious threat to a person, vessel, or the environment
• Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver that, because of this restriction, are not able to comply with approach restrictions
• Activities authorized through a permit or authorization issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service that may result in the taking of humpback whales

The final rule is effective January 22, 2024.

If you have any questions concerning this rulemaking action, please contact Kevin Brindock, with the NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Regional Office, at [email protected], 808-725-5146.