Bluefin Tuna – Longline Closures
If you would like to easily help bluefin tuna (whose population is now down to about 2% of its level in 1960) or billfish such as blue and white marlin, which were caught and died on longlines in the Gulf of Mexico by several thousand between 2007-2009, or sharks, 1400 of which were killed over the same time period with over 400 bluefin tuna (most are spawners) that are left to die on longlines in the Gulf annually, consider joining me and many others by signing on to the form letter to NMFS here:
The comment deadline has been extended to December 10.
Below is my personal letter:
September 15, 2013
Mr. Thomas Warren
National Marine Fisheries Service, HMS Division
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930
Re: Draft Amendment 7, Bluefin Tuna Management
Dear Mr. Warren:
NOAA’s bluefin protection proposal is a step in the right direction, but significant changes are needed to protect the endangered western North Atlantic bluefin tuna population. Its abundance has now been driven down to about 2 percent of its level in the early 1960s. As a consequence, it has been proposed for listing as a “threatened species” or as an “endangered species” and protected under the Endangered Species Act. Bluefin once roamed the entire Atlantic Ocean but excessive fishing in their concentration areas has already forced the South Atlantic population into extinction as depicted in the latest bluefin stock assessment (p. 13 of the Detailed Report) issued by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which claims management authority over all Atlantic highly migratory species.
As the owner of Prime Seafood, the only dealer supplying only sustainable seafood to high end restaurants throughout the Washington D .C. metropolitan area, and as a fisheries ecologist with over 40 years of experience in national and international marine fishery conservation and management (including fourteen years dealing with bluefin tuna and the other Atlantic highly migratory species), I am asking for significantly greater protection for bluefin particularly for the adults in the spring as they are spawning in the north central Gulf of Mexico and the juveniles while concentrated in their winter nursery grounds off North Carolina, and an end to longline bycatch waste of this, the most valuable fish in the sea.
Surface longlines, stretching up to 40 miles and strung with hundreds of baited hooks, catch target fish including swordfish and yellowfin tuna but also more than 80 unintended marine species, as well as the bluefin tuna which is perilously close to extinction. In 2012, because of this uncontrolled catch, surface longline fishermen exceeded their bluefin quota and were required to throw back, dead, almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin allotment. Much of this waste occurred in areas important to bluefin off North Carolina and particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, the sole spawning area for western North Atlantic bluefin tuna.
For sixty years, U.S. longlines have targeted and incidentally caught and killed bluefin tuna. A portion of this occurs off the coast of North Carolina and a very significant portion in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the Small Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area option preferred by NOAA excludes important spawning habitat in the north central Gulf of Mexico throughout which bluefin catch is significant. Therefore, it should be expanded to include the entire Gulf of Mexico used by bluefin for spawning and its duration tailored to include just the peak of the bluefin spawning season, which occurs approximately between April 15 and June 15 (Dr. Barbara Block’s Tag-a-Giant Project can provide a more exact range of dates for this spawning period.) Restricting spawning season access to the Gulf and implementing an expanded Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area Closure covering the areas used the by overwintering juvenile bluefin will not only protect bluefin tuna but also encourage the use of more selective fishing methods capable of avoiding the lethal catch of bluefin and other non-target ocean wildlife.
The proposed rule, especially if modified as suggested, has the potential to help conserve bluefin as well as endangered Atlantic blue and white marlin, several thousand of which were caught and died on longlines in the Gulf of Mexico between 2007 and 2009. Both Atlantic blue and white marlin are on a trajectory to reach extinction within a decade, based on records of the total international catch between 1990 and 2007 presented in ICCAT’s latest blue marlin stock assessment (see Summary Report, Figure 2.). Over 1400 sharks, many species of which are approaching extinction, were killed over the same time period and over 400 bluefin tuna (most of which are spawners) are left to die each year on longlines in the Gulf of Mexico. Alternative gear is available and should be permitted as replacements for longlines during the closures. Green stick and buoy gear have been shown to significantly reduce the catch and discards of bluefin and marlin, but still allow commercial fishermen to catch targeted yellowfin tuna and swordfish.
The U.S. longline fishery regularly exceeds its annual bluefin quota. In 2012, the fishery surpassed its quota by 218 percent, requiring it to discard, dead, nearly 25 percent of the U.S. bluefin quota. In addition to the closures that I have recommended, NOAA should implement a strong suite of management measures, such as the bluefin catch cap and the individual bluefin quota system, to prevent these harmful overages and encourage fishermen to use more selective gear. Furthermore, the agency should not provide additional bluefin quota to the longline fishery beyond its current share of 8.1 percent of the U.S. quota, as this will only undercut the benefits of the bluefin catch cap and associated measures.
Please take advantage of this historic opportunity to reduce the wasteful and damaging catch of western North Atlantic bluefin tuna on longlines by implementing a geographic expansion of the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Area Closure during their spawning season and the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area Closure in the juvenile bluefin’s overwintering grounds. I also encourage the agency to implement a strict annual bluefin catch cap, the associated individual bluefin quota system, and enhanced at-sea monitoring to limit future catch of bluefin tuna in the longline fishery. Lastly, NOAA Fisheries should not reallocate additional bluefin quota to the longline fishery.
James R. Chambers
cc: Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
Samuel Rouch, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
This is long overdue. To really make a dent in this problem, heavy pressure need to be put on "Pacific" longline fleets, which have no interest in taking their feet off the accelerator.