Take Action to Reduce Longline Bycatch of Bluefin

TAKE ACTION TO REDUCE LONGLINE BYCATCH OF BLUEFIN

The severely depleted population of bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic Ocean breeds only in the Gulf of Mexico. Every spring, hundreds of rare giant bluefin, who come there to spawn, are caught and killed as bycatch in the commercial longline fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish. This doesn’t have to happen. There are ways to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish and protect bluefin at the same time, helping them to recover to healthy numbers.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering ways to change future management of Atlantic bluefin tuna, with an emphasis on reducing bycatch of bluefin in the United States longline fishery throughout the Atlantic, including the Gulf. The agency is right now asking for comment on a recently-released Scoping Document. The management alternatives that survive this round of public comment and review will be developed and considered through Draft Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan later this year.

Contact NMFS today (BEFORE JULY 15) and tell them you support the inclusion of measures that would allow fishermen to continue to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish while avoiding current high mortality rates on other vulnerable species; not just bluefin tuna, but billfish, sharks and sea turtles as well. Tell them to:

IMPLEMENT A NEW CLOSED AREA IN THE GULF OF MEXICO. Closure of the Northern Gulf to longlining during peak spawning months of April through June would significantly reduce bluefin bycatch of rare breeders. It could be expanded through the summer months to minimize bycatch of billfish. It is enforceable through electronic vessel monitoring systems.

SET A LONGLINE CATCH CAP BY REGION OR FLEET-WIDE. An annual cap on incidental catch of bluefin tuna (landed and discarded), after which longlining would end for the season, would create a strong incentive for tuna and swordfish longliners to alter their fishing strategies to avoid bluefin or switch to more selective alternative gears. A bycatch cap would require enhanced observer coverage.

SHIFT FROM LONGLINES TO GREESTICK AND/OR BUOY GEAR. Closures and caps can be used in combination to move the fleet away from longlines to the use of greensticks for yellowfin tuna and buoy gear for swordfish. The shift to these gears would maximize protection for bluefin while transitioning the fishery to alternative gears shown to have high catch rates of target species with insignificant amounts of bycatch of any species.

RESTRICT LENGTH OF LONGLINE GEAR. The root problem with longlines is they’re too long, from 20 to 40 miles, and they’re in the water 12 hours or more. Shorter lines and soak times may not help bluefin in the Gulf, where mortality after hook-up is high because of the warm waters and amount of energy expended during spawning, but it could have benefits elsewhere. Studies indicate billfish and sharks that are on the line from 3-6 hours have a substantially higher survival rate than fish that spend more time on the hook, even using circle hooks.

You may submit comments on the scoping document (identified by “NOAA-NMFS. 2012-0082”) through July 15, 2012, by one of the following methods: Submit electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov; fax to 978-281-9340; or mail to Tom Warren, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, NMFS 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

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