What are Manatee Protection Rules?
Manatee protection rules are rules that are established by FWC to restrict the speed and operation of vessels where necessary to protect manatees from harmful collisions with vessels and from harassment. In areas that are especially important to manatees, the rules can prohibit or limit entry into an area as well as restrict what activities can be performed in the area. FWC is authorized to adopt these rules by the Manatee Sanctuary Act, 379.2431(2), Florida Statutes (FS). The rules appear in Chapter 68C-22 of the Florida Administrative Code (FAC).
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Local governments can also establish manatee protection zones through the adoption of a local ordinance. These zones must be approved by FWC before they can take effect, as required by 379.2431(2)(p),FS. Local manatee protection zones cannot include waters within the main marked channel of the Florida Intracoastal Waterway or waters within 100 feet thereof.
The rationale for reducing vessels speeds to reduce risks to manatees is discussed in a peer-reviewed paper FWC staff authored in 2007: Calleson, CS, and RK Frohlich. 2007. Slower boat speeds reduce risks to manatees. Endangered Species Research. Vol. 3, pp. 295-304.
Ongoing and recent rule making actions
How are Manatee Protection Rules Established?
FWC's manatee protection rule making process is described in Rule 68C-22.001, FAC. The process is started when the FWC evaluates all available information and determines that a new or amended rule may be warranted. (The initial step of identifying an area to be evaluated can be undertaken internally by FWC or can be done by someone outside of FWC by submitting a request. The December 2007 Manatee Management Plan describes the factors FWC considers when prioritizing areas to be reviewed.) Many different factors are considered when the need for a rule is evaluated. The most important factors are typically the amount and types of manatee use and boating use in the area in light of the available habitat and waterway characteristics (depth, visibility, width of the waterway, etc.).
Once FWC has decided that a new or amended rule may be needed, it must follow the rule making procedures required by the Administrative Procedures Act (Chapter 120, FS), the Manatee Sanctuary Act, and the Uniform Rules of Procedure related to rule making (28-103, FAC). These statutes and rules should be consulted for a detailed description of the process; however, the general process is as follows:
As required by the Manatee Sanctuary Act, the first step is to notify the affected county government that FWC is considering new or amended zones. The county then has 60 days to form a Local Rule Review Committee (LRRC). The purpose of the LRRC is to review the preliminary rule proposal and submit a written report for consideration by the FWC before the FWC Commissioners decide the content of a formal rule proposal.
FWC publishes a Notice of Rule Development (NORD) and mails the notice to everyone who has requested to be notified whenever FWC considers rule making for manatee protection purposes in the affected county. The purpose of this notice is to announce to the public that FWC is considering the need for a new or amended rule. Rule Development Workshops can also be held. The timing of this notice can vary. It can occur as early as 60 days after the county is notified (see above) to as late as a week before a Notice of Proposed Rule is published.
The FWC submits a preliminary rule proposal and supporting data to the LRRC. The LRRC then has 60 days to review the proposal and submit its report to the FWC. The LRRC report may contain recommended changes to the proposal and if the majority opinion of the LRRC is not unanimous, the report must also contain a minority opinion.
FWC staff then reviews the LRRC report and prepares a written response to the report as well as a rule proposal for consideration by the FWC Commissioners. (Staff frequently makes changes to the proposal between the preliminary stage and this stage, particularly if the LRRC or others recommend modifications.) The LRRC report, staff response to the report, and the rule proposal are then provided to the FWC Commissioners for consideration at a public meeting. This typically occurs at one of the regular FWC meetings that are held during the course of the year.
If the FWC Commissioners decide rule making is needed, a Notice of Proposed Rule is published and mailed. Public comments are accepted for 21 days after the notice is published or through the date of the final public hearing, whichever is longer. (A typical comment period is open for several months or more.) At least one public hearing is usually held in the affected county. Any comments the FWC receives during this phase are evaluated to determine if any changes should be made to the proposed rule.
The final public hearing is held by the FWC Commissioners, typically at one of the regular FWC meetings that are held during the course of the year. At the conclusion of the final public hearing, the FWC Commissioners decide whether to adopt the proposed rule (with or without changes).
If changes are made, a Notice of Change is then published and disseminated.
The final step in the rule making process is to file the rule for adoption with Florida's Department of State. Rules become effective 20 days after being adopted, but are not enforceable until signs are posted on the water to notify boaters of the regulations. If areas for which the FWC adopts regulations are also regulated by other governments and/or for other purposes besides manatee protection, the most restrictive regulation applies and is what is posted.
What kind of Permits are Available to Operate a Vessel in a Protected Area?
In some cases, permits are available to allow a person to operate a vessel at speeds greater than those allowed by a manatee protection rule or to enter an area where a rule prohibits or limits access. These permits, which are described in Rule 68C-22.003 of the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), are available in some areas to people engaged in the activities described here.
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