The first action plan from National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is a proposed Amendment 13 for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna that included a tremendous array of options to modify how Atlantic bluefin tuna are managed. Because the Purse Seine Category has not landed any of its quota due to size constraints it has evolved into a robust business by leasing their uncaught quota tonnage to the longline vessels. The Angling and General Category (Rod & Reel) each can catch more tonnage if the agency would redistribute some of the Purse Seine tonnage to each.
The second action that we are monitoring is the agency’s “research plan” which is the newest step toward justifying authorization of pelagic longline vessels back inside closed zones and restricted areas. This plan did not include an abundance for public comment opportunities. The current system of issuing Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP) provides for such opportunities plus requires a National Environmental Policy Analysis (NEPA) for each proposed research project. The system has worked, but with a great deal of controversy generated by the agency’s plans to “research fish” in waters off Florida’s east coast.
The State of Florida remains, as does TBF, consistent in opposition to allowing pelagic longline boats into the closed zone off its coasts, yet the federal agency perseveres. For the first time, NMFS has included as an evaluation factor to determine whether the closed zone contributes to the U.S. seafood trade imbalance. This is a stretch for the U.S. imports 90% of all seafood consumed in the country. The pelagic longline fishing research plan is being pushed primarily by commercial swordfish interests, which just prior to the closure, were landing 80% of juvenile undersized Atlantic swordfish catch. The closure off Florida was to provide protection for juvenile swordfish and billfish, overfished billfish and other species: sea turtles, marine mammals, and sharks, all remain overfished so the work of the closure is not complete. TBF opposes opening any pelagic longline closed area or gear restricted area.
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