Which Way Will New Head of NMFS Sway On Longline Closed Zone?

Appointed in June with support from over 55 commercial fishing companies and organizations, the new Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has a number of pressing issues to attend. Chris Oliver, formerly Director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, has three decades of fisheries management experience ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska.

Now that NMFS has a new leader, a decision is approaching on whether to grant requested Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP) in the longline closed zone off Florida’s east coast.

The closed zone was created in response to the need to provide protection to juvenile swordfish in their nursery area and to reduce billfish bycatch. The area has been closed to longline fishing for 16 years. Those applying for an EFP to conduct longlining in the area hope to assess the progress that’s been made. The worry is that granting research permits will open the door to granting commercial fishing permits. TBF has maintained that eradicating the conservation progress made in those 16 years by once again allowing longlines is contradictory.

In his letter to stakeholders and partners, Oliver said he himself is an “avid sportsman, and appreciates the contributions of anglers to conservation and coastal economies.” This may be a positive for the recreational fishing community, and our interests in maintaining the closed zone off Florida’s east coast. However, the long list of commercial fishing interests who endorsed Oliver also raises concern that he may be inclined to approve the Exempted Fishing Permit to allow commercial fishing back in the closed zone.

The public comment period for this issue closed in March, so a decision is expected in the near future.