The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently released an Options Paper to amend the current Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) strategy, implemented to reduce incidental bycatch of bluefin, in the pelagic longline fishery for public review. The allocation of bluefin tuna to all user categories may be changed. Why should the recreational community care?
For two primary reasons, the NMFS is advancing an amendment (13) to the Atlantic Consolidated Fishery Management Plan for Highly Migratory Species. One, the U.S. commercial fleet is not landing its international allocated Atlantic bluefin quota, leaving the unused portion subject to reallocation to other nations. Hence, agency staff are putting forth management options to maximize utilization of the U.S. quota. Two, following three years of managing the pelagic longline fishery through an Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) strategy and a review of the strategy’s effectiveness, strategy modifications are needed also to strive for full utilization of the quota, while continuing conservation of the species. Could this mean that angling categories will be increased? Unfortunately, that is not likely.
The 5 U.S. Atlantic purse seine vessels cannot land their assigned portion of the quota for they are limited to landing bluefin tuna at 81 inches or larger and since 2012 bluefin schools include greater numbers of smaller fish. The fleet has not landed a bluefin since 2015. In response, the agency has transferred most of the unused purse seine quota share first to a Reserve Category and, as needed, to other fishing “Categories” to try to maximize fishing opportunities and quota. Some purse seine vessels transferred portion of their tonnage to shareholders in other Categories or leased potions to pelagic longline vessel owners fishing under the IBQ strategy.
The IBQ leasing practice has become a robust business while purse seine permit holders wait to see whether large medium bluefin grow to 81 inches and larger needed to support a viable purse seine fishery. New entrants are prohibited from entering the Purse Seine Category.
Many options are being considered by the NMFS, with a few listed below, including:
- abolishing the Purse Seine Category & increase bluefin allocations equally across all other Categories, which would increase tonnage for the Angling Category in all regions;
- allocating based on fishing activity of each vessel or allocate an equal share to each;
- allocating based on new regulations and share formulas;
- allocating based on request of each vessel;
- allocating quota to the General Category vessels based on new time periods;
- allocating quota to a divided North Angling Category; and
- authorizing pelagic longline vessels permitted to fish in the Atlantic Ocean to also fish in the Gulf of Mexico between July through December when spawning bluefin are no longer in the region’s waters.