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Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico Large Pelagics Longline Fishery

Current Classification on the 2017 LOF

Category I
Estimated Number of Participants 234
Target Species Swordfish,
tuna (yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin, and albacore),
dolphin fish,
shortfin mako shark,
and a variety of other shark species
Applicable Take Reduction Plans Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan
Observer Coverage Observers are placed upon randomly selected vessels with total observer effort allocated on a geographic basis proportional to the total amount of fishing effort reported by the fleet. The target observer coverage level was 5% of reported sets through 2001, and was elevated to 8% of total sets in 2002. In 2011, the overall percent observer coverage during regular fishing was 10.9% expressed as a proportion of reported hooks and 10.1% as a proportion of reported sets (Garrison and Stokes 2012).
Marine Mammal Species/Stocks Killed or Injured Atlantic spotted dolphin, Gulf of Mexico (GMX) continental and oceanic;
Bottlenose dolphin, Northern GMX oceanic;
Bottlenose dolphin, Western North Atlantic (WNA) offshore;
Common dolphin, WNA;
Cuvier's beaked whale, WNA;
False killer whale, WNA;
Harbor porpoise, GME, BF;
Kogia spp. (pygmy or dwarf sperm whale), WNA;
Long-finned pilot whale, WNA1;
Mesoplodon beaked whale, WNA;
Minke whale, Canadian East coast;
Pantropical spotted dolphin, Northern GMX;
Pygmy sperm whale, GMX;
Risso’s dolphin, Northern GMX;
Risso’s dolphin, WNA;
Short-finned pilot whale, Northern GMX;
Short-finned pilot whale, WNA1

^ Number of participants estimates are based on state and federal fisheries permit data.  The estimated number of participants is expressed in terms of the number of active participants in the fishery, when possible.  If this information is not available, the estimated number of vessels or persons licensed for a particular fishery is provided.  If no recent information is available on the number of participants, then the number from the most recent LOF is used.  NMFS acknowledges that, in some cases, these estimations may be inflating actual effort.  

*Observer coverage levels include the latest information reported in the most current final Stock Assessment Report (SAR)

1Indicates the stock or species is driving the classification of the fishery 

Note: Current classification based on final LOF, no proposed changes are reflected in this table.

Basis for Current Classification

The total annual mortality and serious injury of long-finned pilot whale (Western North Atlantic [WNA] stock), pygmy sperm whale (WNA stock), and short-finned pilot whale (WNA stock) in this fishery is greater than 50% of the stocks’ Potential Biological Removal (PBR) levels.


This fishery operates year-round and occurs within and outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone throughout Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters.  The fishery has historically been composed of five relatively distinct segments with different fishing practices and strategies, including: Gulf of Mexico yellowfin tuna fishery; South Atlantic-Florida east coast to Cape Hatteras swordfish fishery; Mid-Atlantic and New England swordfish and bigeye tuna fishery; U.S. distant water swordfish fishery; and Caribbean Islands’ tuna and swordfish fishery.  In addition to geographical area, these segments have historically differed by percentage of various target and non-target species caught, gear characteristics, and deployment techniques.

Gear Description

The fishery uses a mainline of >700 lb (317.5 kg) test monofilament typically ranging from 10-45 mi (16-72 km) long.  Bullet-shaped floats are suspended at regular intervals along the mainline and long sections of gear are marked by radio beacons.  Long gangion lines of 200-400 lb (91-181 kg) test monofilament of typically 100-200 ft (30.5-61 m) are suspended from the mainline.  Only certain sized hooks and baits are allowed based on fishing location.  Hooks are typically fished at depths between 40-120 ft (12-36.6 m).  Longlines targeting tuna are typically set at dawn are hauled near dusk, while longlines targeting swordfish are typically set at night and hauled in the morning.  Gear remains in the water typically for 10-14 hours.  Fishermen generally modify only select sections of longline gear to target dolphin fish or wahoo, with the remaining gear configured to target swordfish, tuna, and/or sharks.


This fishery is managed under the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The dolphin fish and wahoo portions of the fishery are managed under the South Atlantic FMP for Dolphin and Wahoo.  Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act address the target fish species, as well as bycatch species protected under the Endangered Species Act and/or the MMPA.  A portion of this fishery is subject to regulations under the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan (50 CFR 229.36).  

Total Effort

The total fishing effort in the Atlantic component of the Pelagic Longline Fishery has been declining since a peak reported effort of 12,318 sets (7.41 million hooks) during 1995. The mean effort reported to the Fisheries Logbook System between 1995 and 2000 was 9,370 sets (5.62 million hooks). Between 2001 and 2007, a mean of 4,551 sets (3.19 million hooks) was reported each year. During 2011, the total reported fishing effort was 8,044 sets and 5.9 thousand hooks (Garrison and Stokes 2012). During 2012, the total reported fishing effort was 11,025 sets and 8.04 thousand hooks (Garrison and Stokes 2013).

Historical Information

Original Category (Year added to the LOF) I (1996)
Original Number of Participants 364
Basis for Original Classification This fishery was listed as a Category I based on the extrapolation of observer data throughout the entire fishery using the total number of sets reported in logbooks.  In 1994, this fishery was listed as Category II based on the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) section 114 classification system.  In 1996, this fishery was placed in Category I based on the current LOF classification system (established in 1996 under section 118 of the MMPA).  Incidental serious injury and mortality of pilot whales was estimated to be 26 animals/year in 1992-1993, or 93% of PBR at a minimum (PBR = between 4 and 28 animals).  This estimated total mortality of pilot whales exceeded the 50% threshold for either long- or short-finned pilot whales.  One Risso’s dolphin was observed killed in 1993 in the Gulf of Mexico.  NMFS also received sighting reports (both at sea and stranded on land) of whales (humpback, sperm, long-finned pilot, and minke whales) carrying gear that could be attributed to the pelagic longline fishery, and reports of a variety of other species injured or killed (including, but not limited to, bottlenose dolphins, harbor porpoise, Risso’s dolphins, and unidentified large cetaceans).
Past Names N/A
Species/stocks historically documented as killed or injured (but not currently on the list) Atlantic spotted dolphin (WNA); bottlenose dolphin (Northern GMX continental shelf); Gervais beaked whale (GMX); Humpback whale (WNA); killer whale (GMX oceanic); Northern bottlenose whale (WNA); Pantropical spotted dolphin (WNA); sperm whale (GMX oceanic); striped dolphin (WNA)


Timeline of Changes

  • Removed Atlantic spotted dolphin (WNA), Gervais beaked whale (GMX), killer whale (GMX oceanic), Pantropical spotted dolphin (WNA), and sperm whale (GMX oceanic).
  • Added harbor porpoise (GME, BF) and pygmy sperm whale (GMX).
  • Added minke whale (Canadian East coast), Kogia spp. (WNA), and false killer whale (WNA).
  • Removed Northern bottlenose whale (WNA)
  • Removed bottlenose dolphin (Northern GMX continental shelf) and retained Gervais beaked whale (GMX oceanic). There have been no documented mortalities or injuries of either species in last five years. 
  • Estimated number of participants updated from 94 to 234.
  • Added killer whale (GMX oceanic stock), sperm whale (GMX oceanic stock), and Gervais beaked whale (GMX oceanic stock) to list of species/stocks killed/injured in this fishery.  A killer whale (GMX oceanic stock) and a sperm whale (GMX oceanic stock) were each injured in this fishery in 2008, and a Gervais beaked whale (GMX oceanic stock) was injured in this fishery in 2007.  
  • Updated the name of the Atlantic spotted dolphin stock from “Northern GMX” to “GMX continental and oceanic” to reflect the stock name in the 2010 SAR.  
  • Removed pygmy sperm whale (WNA) from the list of species/stocks killed/injured in this fishery because there have been no injuries or mortalities reported in the last 5 years.  Observer coverage from 2000-2006 was 4-7%, with coverage often greater than 10% in some areas and seasons.
  • Changed the name of the bottlenose dolphin stocks listed from “GMX Outer Continental Shelf" to " Northern GMX continental shelf," and  "Northern GMX outer continental shelf" to " Northern GMX oceanic."  The names of the stocks were changed in the 2003 and 2005 SARs and the change was inadvertently left out of the LOF.
  • Northern bottlenose whale (WNA) added because of an observed entanglement and serious injury in 2001.
  • Added a superscript “1” in Table 2 after long-finned pilot whale (WNA), pygmy sperm whale (WNA), and short-finned pilot whale (WNA), indicating that these stocks are driving the categorization of this fishery.
  • Estimate number of participants updated from <200 to 94.
  • Added Cuvier's beaked whale (WNA) and Mesoplodon beaked whales (WNA), because interactions had been documented by the observer program.  Also, added short-finned pilot whale (Northern GMX) because interactions were documented in recent Stock Assessment Reports (SAR).
  • Removed from the list of species/stocks killed/injured in this fishery: Humpback whale (WNA), Minke whale (Canadian East Coast), Striped dolphin (WNA), and Harbor porpoise (Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy) because interactions had not been documented in recent years.  
  • Pygmy sperm whale (WNA) added to the list of species/stocks incidentally killed/injured based on a report of a serious injury of this stock in this fishery in 2000.  This single event translated to an average mortality and serious injury rate of 6 animals/year for 1996-2000, exceeding 100% of PBR (PBR=4.7).
  • Estimate number of participants updated from 364 to <200.  While there were 443 permits issued, these were not all active participants.


Updated December 14, 2016