“End the Wasteful Bycatch of Bluefin”, Public Tells NMFS

Fishermen and Conservationists Call on NMFS to Enact Tough New Rules to Limit Indiscriminate Longlines

The people have spoken.  On January 10, 2014, the public comment period on new measures to reduce the number of Atlantic bluefin tuna hooked and killed by pelagic longliners came to an end.  By all accounts, thousands of fishermen and conservationists weighed in to urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to adopt tough new limits to reign in indiscriminate longlining.  NMFS will now review and consider these comments and issue a Final Rule later this year.

Efforts to rebuild the severely overfished population of bluefin tuna, not to mention the sacrifices made by other fishermen, have been undercut by the out-of-control bycatch on longlines set for swordfish and yellowfin tuna – an estimated 240 metric tons in 2012, or about one-fourth of the total U.S. quota.  Not only is most of this catch discarded dead, a large portion is taken in the Gulf of Mexico, where the depleted adult breeding population goes to spawn every spring.  Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, which has been in the works for several years, is supposed to end this waste.

In addition to alerts to our members and supporters about the opportunity to voice support for bluefin conservation, Wild Oceans submitted a detailed letter evaluating the various alternatives presented in the Draft Amendment.  We recommended a suite of measures that will tightly restrict the longline bycatch while providing strong incentives for commercial fishermen to employ safer, more selective fishing methods and avoid bluefin interactions altogether.  You can read our complete statement here.

In previous comments on the developing draft, as well as in comments on earlier proposals to reduce bycatch of bluefin tuna and other vulnerable species in the pelagic longline fishery, we’ve consistently advocated the use of time-area closures along with a cap-and-close strategy; that is, setting a hard cap on bycatch that when reached would shut down the fishery.  Closing areas where bycatch is highest coupled with a strict bycatch ceiling provide a powerful incentive for fishermen using indiscriminate longlines to switch to alternative methods of fishing, such as greenstick and buoy gear, handlines, harpoon or rod-and-reel.

In our letter, we commended NMFS for proposing, among its preferred alternatives, a pair of new areas closed to longlining and a bycatch cap that, when reached, triggers an end to all longlining by U.S. vessels in the Atlantic for the rest of the year.  But we also told the agency it had to do better.

Wrote Wild Oceans president Ken Hinman:  “Even though Draft Amendment 7 contains most of the right ingredients for reducing bycatch of bluefin tuna in the pelagic longline fishery, NMFS’ recipe of preferred alternatives utilizes these ingredients in the wrong proportions, either too much or too little.  Specifically, the Gulf of Mexico closure is not large enough or long enough.  The bycatch quota allocation to the longline fishery, on the other hand, is much too big.”

The measures we support would:  (1) set a hard longline bycatch cap of 75 metric tons, landings and discards (or 8.1% of the total U.S. quota in 2014); (2) close the entire Gulf of Mexico to longlining from March through May, covering the height and breadth of the bluefin’s breeding season; (3) establish a new longline closed area off North Carolina to reduce longline interactions with pre-spawning tuna; (4) maintain the existing longline closed areas without change; and, (5) treat any allocation of “bycatch shares” within the overall cap, whether by allocated by region, group or individual vessel, as an experiment that affords longliners no long-term right to a share of the U.S. quota.

January 13, 2014

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