NOAA CLOSES MORE WATERS TO LONGLINING, WILL CLOSE FISHERY IF IT REACHES BYCATCH CAP
Five years ago, when NOAA Fisheries announced they were looking for ways to limit the longline bycatch and discard of Atlantic bluefin tuna, we had some suggestions. In August 2009, Wild Oceans (then NCMC)recommended a comprehensive conservation program featuring a hard cap on bycatch and new time-area closures; what we called a “cap-and-close” strategy to give fishermen an incentive to use “cleaner” alternative gears and fishing methods while curtailing longlining, most urgently on the long-depleted bluefin’s Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds.
So we are happy that Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, made final in October, includes what we consider the key elements of an effective longline bycatch reduction program: a bycatch cap, area closures and enhanced monitoring. If properly implemented and enforced, it should, for the first time, hold the longline fleet accountable for substantially reducing its incidental catch of bluefin tuna.
“The amended plan is a big step forward on a long-standing problem, enacting badly needed measures to reduce longline interactions with bluefin tuna along with innovative ways to hold fishermen accountable,” says Wild Oceans president Ken Hinman.
As we stated in a recent letter to NOAA Fisheries, however, we have some reservations about the program. Chief among these is that giving individual bycatch quotas (IBQs) to longline vessels, a form of catch share, could institutionalize longlining for bluefin, thus limiting options for reducing bycatch in the future. An IBQ system for a bycatch species is an experiment, an unknown, either offering the potential to hold individual vessels accountable for reducing their interactions with bluefin, as intended, or inadvertently taking away the incentive to avoid interactions for many active vessels.
Because every management action should contribute to a long-term vision of sustainable fisheries, one where indiscriminate, ecologically-harmful fishing gears are replaced by more selective, sustainable fishing methods that provide a local supply of seafood caught in an environmentally responsible way, it is important that NOAA Fisheries commit to a full review of Amendment 7’s effectiveness in three years time and retain the regulatory flexibility to make whatever changes are needed.
Until then, we will continue to work with NOAA during implementation of the new program so that the hard cap on bycatch and closed areas combine to give longliners a strong incentive to switch to available alternative gears (greenstick for tuna, buoy-gear for swordfish) or adopt cleaner fishing techniques, such as fishing shorter sets with shorter soak times (something we’ve advocated for many years), so that incidentally-caught bluefin (and other bycatch) can be released alive.