TALLAHASSEE — Newly proposed rules by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) pose a clear and present danger to Florida’s economy, its public safety and the security of our nation, the Florida Ports Council (FPC) said on June 28. These federal rules would impose the most restrictive regulations on navigable waters from Pensacola to Tampa Bay, resulting in a near shut down of essential food, fuel, medical supplies and cargo imports and exports at four of Florida’s most active Gulf of Mexico seaports.
NOAAs proposal calls for eliminating all nighttime vessel traffic, and significantly reducing daytime vessel speeds, impacting Port Tampa Bay, SeaPort Manatee, Port Panama City and Port of Pensacola. The rule, NOAA says, is designed to protect a newly discovered whale, with a population size of between 50-100 whales, that is known to traverse the entire Gulf of Mexico region, and is not just limited to Florida waters.
“It’s as if NOAA wants Florida to hang up a ‘closed for business’ sign,” said Mike Rubin, president and CEO, Florida Ports Council. “Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seaports play an enormous role in fueling (petrol) Florida, and are essential suppliers of everything from food to medical supplies, and construction materials to build homes, roads and make ongoing hurricane repairs in Southwest Florida.”
Implicit in the federal government’s call for eliminating nighttime vessel traffic and reducing daytime vessel speeds only in Florida between Pensacola and Tampa Bay, is an uninformed assertion that Florida’s seaports have limited operations and shutting them down would not harm the supply chain in Florida or the broader United States.
“Americans have not forgotten how the West Coast supply chain debacle of 2021 left shelves empty, medical supplies limited, and even threatened to cancel Christmas. Florida played an outsized role in resolving that crisis by encouraging ships to change lanes and sail to Florida seaports,” Rubin explained. “Florida’s reliable and resilient seaports proved to the world that the Sunshine State was ready, and as a result, those shipping lines have made strategic decisions to make Florida a more permanent first port of call.”
Below is an outline of the economic, public safety and national security impacts of the proposed rule.
Florida’s 16 Seaports:
• Florida seaports saw record-high cargo in 2022.
• 112.5 million tons of cargo moved,
• 4,310,054 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) moved,
• Accounted for 13.3 percent of Florida’s GDP,
• Supported 900,000 jobs, and
• Contributed $117.6 billion to Florida’s economy.
Port Tampa Bay (1 of 4 Fuel Ports):
• One of the nation’s fastest growing seaports.
• Handled more than 33 million tons of cargo with an economic value of $17 billion in FY 2022.
• All cargo will be impacted by the proposed NOAA rule.
• More than 6,400 ships called on the port in FY 2022. That’s 17+ ships each day. All vessels traveled at night in the Gulf of Mexico for part of their transit.
• More than 7,677,245 net tons of domestic petroleum products came into the port in FY 2022, all with a nighttime aspect to their transits in the Gulf of Mexico.
SeaPort Manatee (1 of 4 Fuel Ports):
• $5.1 billion economic value annually.
• 33.4 percent of its ship traffic, reflecting a $1.7 billion value, will be impacted by this proposed rule.
• 325 cargo vessels that call on this port, representing 33.4 percent of all ship traffic, traverse to and from this port at night.
• 96 fuel ships, representing 10 percent of all fuel vessels that call on this port, traverse to and from this port at night.
• Read SeaPort Manatee’s Seaport Spotlight.
Port Panama City:
• 2.03 million tons of cargo was handled at this regional seaport in FY 2022, with the majority of cargo traversing at night in the Gulf of Mexico for part of its travels.
• $618.8 million in personal income and local consumption
• Supporting 10,790 total jobs in Northwest Florida and the Southeastern U.S.
• $1.6 billion in total economic value
• Read Port Panama City’s Seaport Spotlight.
Port of Pensacola:
• 425,277 tons of cargo handled in FY 2022, a 55% increase year-over-year
• $300 million in cargo now transits through this port – a 419% increase.
Public Safety: Seaports Fuel Florida:
• Florida is not an oil refining state; therefore fuel/petrol is imported from two neighboring Gulf of Mexico port states – Louisiana and Texas.
• Of particular impact to the public safety of all Floridians, two of Florida’s four petrol seaports that import fuel – Port Tampa Bay and SeaPort Manatee – are located within NOAA’s proposed rule restriction zone.
• All four of Florida’s fuel ports play vital roles in keeping everything from airplanes to cars and commercial trucks used for delivering goods and supplies to grocery stores across Florida fueled.
• More importantly, in times of natural disaster, a nighttime ban on vessel traffic, combined with daytime vessel speed limitations, will exacerbate Florida’s ability to recover from storms.
• All branches of our nation’s military use the Eastern Gulf Test and Training Range (GTTR) for national security training.
• The GTTR is a multi-service training area that supports simultaneous maritime, air and land training exercises. It is an integral part of the Department of Defense’s Training Resource Strategy.
• However, NOAAs proposed Vessel Slowdown Zone will restrict live fire munitions to a certain zone.
• The Defense Support Initiatives Committee has submitted comment to NOAA stating that, “…it is essential that no restriction be placed on Department of Defense or Homeland Security activities.”
The Florida Ports Council has requested to NOAA that they rescind their proposed rule, and take action to work closely with affected ports, maritime industry stakeholders and other to accurately determine the effect any proposal would have on ports and the communities they serve. A copy of the FPC's letter to NOAA can be found here.
The Florida Ports Council and its 16 member ports have a long history of protecting Florida’s environment to preserve the state’s natural environment. Collectively, Florida’s seaports are using innovative technology to champion the use of cleaner, alternative fuels, reducing engine emissions from port equipment, recycling oil used in cranes, capturing more stormwater than ever and ensuring this stormwater is cleaner before it discharged back into the environment.
Additionally, Florida’s ports have played a key role in raising awareness of wildlife and marine life, and supporting efforts like bird sanctuaries, clam restoration, annual Right Whale festivals, and more.
Among the organizations that FPC and its member ports are actively engaged with are:
• Florida Recycling Partnership,
• Ocean Alliance Group (chaired by FPC member and Port Tampa Bay Port Director Paul Anderson),
• Green Marine,
• Tampa Bay Estuary Program,
• Maritime Sustainability Team,
• Manbirtee Key Bird Sanctuary
• Coral Reef Research and Restoration
• American and Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association
• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating