Alexander, K., G. Robertson, R. Gales. 1997. The incidental mortality of Albatrosses in longline fisheries. A Report on the Workshop from the First International Conference on the Biology and Conservation of Albatrosses. Hobart, Australia, September1995. 44 pp.
Arocha. 1996. Taken from Hoey and Moore's Captains Report: Multi-species catch
characteristics for the U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fishery, August 1999.
Arocha, F. 1997. The reproductive dynamics of swordfish Xiphias gladius L. and management implications in the northwestern Atlantic. University of Miami, Ph.D. Dissertation. Coral Gables, FL. 383 pp.
Berkeley, S.A., E.W. Irby, Jr., and J.W. Jolley, Jr. 1981. Florida's Commercial
Fishery: Longline Gear and Methods. MAP-14, Marine Advisory Bulletin, Florida Sea Grant College in cooperation with University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Florida Department of Natural Resources, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fl, 23 pp.
Burgess, G. 2001. University of Florida, Commercial Shark Fishery Observer
Carlson, J. K. 2000. Progress Report on the Directed Shark Gillnet Fishery:
Season, 2000. Sustainable Fisheries Division Contribution No. SFD-99/00-90: 12 p.
Carlson, J. K. 2001. Draft working paper: The directed shark drift gillnet fishery: characterization of the small coastal shark catch and a preliminary standardization of catch rates. NOAA Fisheries. Panama City, FL. 6p.
Carlson, J.K. 2002. National Marine Fisheries Service. Pers. Comm.
Carlson, J. K. and I. Baremore. 2001. The directed shark gillnet fishery: non-right whale season, 2000-2001. Sustainable Fisheries Division Contribution No PCB-01-02-002: 8 p.
Carlson, J.K. and D.W. Lee. 1999. Catch and bycatch in the shark drift gillnet fishery off east Florida during the critical right whale season, 1999. Sustainable Fisheries Division Contribution No SFD-98/99-60: 13 p.
Carocci, F. and J. Majkowski. 1998. Atlas of tuna and billfish catches. CD-ROM
FAO, Rome, Italy.
Cortes, E. 2000. 2000 Shark Evaluation Report. NOAA, NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City, FL. SFD-00/01-119. 23p.
Cortes, E. 2001a. Catches and catch rates of pelagic sharks from the northwestern Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. ICCAT Working Document SCRS/01/60. 20 pp.
Cortes, E. 2001b. NOAA Fisheries, SEFSC. Pers. Comm.
Cortes, E. 2002. Stock Assessment of Small Coastal Sharks in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Sustainable Fisheries Division. Contribution SFD-01/02-152. NOAA Fisheries SEFSC. Panama City, FL. 133 pp.
Cramer, J. 2001. Large Pelagic Logbook Newsletter - 2000. NOAA Tech. Memo. NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC 471. 26 pp.
Cramer, J. and H. Adams. 2000. Large Pelagic Logbook Newsletter: 1998. NOAA
Memo. NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC-433. 25 pp.
Cramer, J. and H. Adams. 2001. Large pelagic logbook newsletter -1999. NOAA Tech Memo. NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC-452. 26 p.
Ditton, R.B., B.L. Bohnsack, and J.R. Stoll. 1998. A social and economic study of the winter recreational Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery in Hatteras, North Carolina. 82 pp.
Fisher, M.R. and R.B. Ditton. 1992a. A social and economic characterization of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico recreational shark fishery. Marine Fisheries Review 55(3): 21-27.
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation, Inc. (GSAFDF). 1996.
Characterization and Comparisons of the Directed Commercial Shark Fishery in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and off North Carolina through an Observer Program. Final Report. MARFIN Grant No. NA47FF0008. 74 pp.
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation, Inc. (GSAFDF). 1997.
Continuation of an Observer Program to Characterize and Compare the Directed Commercial Shark Fishery in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, MARFIN Grant No. NA57FF0286.
Honolulu Advertiser with the Hawai'i Longline Association. 2000.
Hicks, R., S. Steinback, A. Gautam, and E. Thunberg. 1999. Volume II: The economic value of New England and mid-Atlantic sportfishing in 1994. NOAA Tech. Memo NOAA Fisheries -F/SPO-38.
Hoey, J. and N. Moore. 1999. Captain's report: Multi-species catch characteristics
for the U.S.
Atlantic pelagic longline fishery. August 1999. 78 pp.
Kleiber, P. 2000. Does proximity to lightsticks or to floatlines affect probability
of sea turtle
takes in the Hawaiian longline fishery? NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Draft Unpublished Report. 4 pp.
Kleiber, P. and C. Boggs. 2000. Workshop on reducing sea turtle takes in longline
Miami, FL, August 31 - September 1, 1999. NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center Administrative Report H-00-09, 16 pp.
Larkin, S. L., C. M. Adams, D. J. Lee. 2000. Reported trip costs, gross revenues, and net returns for U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline vessels. Marine Fisheries Review 62(2): 49-60.
McHugh, R.J. and T.J. Murray. 1997. An Analysis of the Demand for, and Supply
MARFIN Grant No. NA57FF0052, Univ. of South Florida and Georgia State Univ.
National Research Council. 1990. Decline of the Sea Turtles: Causes and Prevention.
National Academy Press. Washington, DC.
NOAA Fisheries. 1999a. Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Billfish Fishery Management Plan. NOAA, DOC. Silver Spring, MD.
NOAA Fisheries. 1999b. Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks. NOAA, DOC. Silver Spring, MD.
NOAA Fisheries. 2000a. Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Regulatory Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks Fishery Management Plan. NOAA Fisheries Office of Sustainable Fisheries, Silver Spring, MD. June 14.
NOAA Fisheries. 2000b. National Report of the United States: 2000. SCRS/00/142. 41 pp.
NOAA Fisheries. 2001a. Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation - Reinitiation of Consultation on the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan and Its Associated Fisheries. Silver Spring, MD. June 14, 2001.
NOAA Fisheries. 2001b. National Report of the United States: 2001, ICCAT Working Document. NAT/01/4. 17 p.
NOAA Fisheries. 2001c. Report of the NOAA Fisheries Technical Gear Workshop to Reduce the Incidental Capture of Sea Turtles in the Atlantic Pelagic Longline Fishery. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD. January 17 - 18, 2001.
NOAA Fisheries. 2001d. Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
NOAA Fisheries. 2002. Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
NOAA Fisheries and USFWS. 1995. Status Review for Sea Turtles Listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center. 2001. Stock assessments of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles and an assessment of the impact of the pelagic longline fishery on the loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles of the Western North Atlantic. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, Miami, FL, SEFSC Contribution PRD-00/01-08.
Porter, R. M., M. Wendt, M. D. Travis, I. Strand. 2001. Cost-earnings study of the Atlantic-based U.S. pelagic longline fleet. Pelagic Fisheries Research Program. SOEST 01-02; JIMAR contribution 01-337. 102 p.
SAFMC. 1990. Amendment I to the fishery management plan for Atlantic Swordfish,
Charleston, SC, October 1990. 101 pp.
Scott, G. P., J. Bennett, B. Slater, P. Phares. 1998. Recent recreational and commercial catches of sharks along the US east and Gulf of Mexico coasts - Revised. Sustainable Fisheries Division Contribution No SFD-97/98-11: 9 p.
SCRS. 1999. Report of the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics, 16th Regular Meeting of the Commission, Executive Summary, October 12, 1999.
SCRS. 2001. Report of the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics, ICCAT
October 8 - 12, 2001.
Spotila, J.R., A.E. Dunham, A.J. Leslie, A.C. Steyermark, P.T. Plotkin, and
F.V. Paladino. 1996. Worldwide Population Decline of Demochelys coriacea: Are
Leatherback Turtles Going
Extinct? Chelonian Conservation and Biology 2(2): 209-222.
Strand, I., McConnell, K., Bockstael, N. 1994. Commercial fisheries harvesting,
and pollution: preferences and conflicts. Final Report, NOAA Fisheries Contract NA-26FD-0135-01, National Saltonstall-Kennedy Program.
Thompson, N. 2001. Application for Permit for Scientific Purposes under the
Species Act (ESA) of 1973, as amended, to Conduct Sea Turtle Bycatch Reduction Research in the Pelagic Longline Fishery of the Western North Atlantic. 23 pp.
Trent, L., D. E. Parshley, and J. K. Carlson. 1997. Catch and bycatch in the shark drift gillnet fishery off Georgia and east Florida. Mar. Fish. Rev. 59(1): 19-28.
Turtle Expert Working Group. 1998. (Byles, R., C. Caillouet, D. Crouse, L.
Epperly, W. Gabriel, B. Gallaway, M. Harris, T. Henwood, S. Heppell, R. Marquex-M, S.
Murphy, W. Teas, N. Thompson, and B. Witherington). An Assessment of the Kemp's
ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtle
populations in the Western North Atlantic. U.S. Dep. Commer. NOAA Tech. Mem.
NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC-409, 96 pp.
Turtle Expert Working Group. 2000. Assessment update for the Kemp's ridley
sea turtle populations in the western North Atlantic. U.S. Dep. Commer. NOAA Tech.
Mem. NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC-444, 115 pp.
Ward, J. and E. Hanson. 1999. The Regulatory Flexibility Act and HMS management
data needs. Presentation at the American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting. Charlotte,
Wilson, D., B.J. McCay, D. Estler, M. Perez-Lugo, J. LaMarque, S. Seminski, A. Tomczuk. 1998. Social and cultural impact assessment of the Highly Migratory Species fishery Management Plan and Amendment to the Atlantic Billfish Fisheries Management Plan. NOAA-NOAA Fisheries-HMS Contract. 178 pp.
Yeung, C. 2001. Estimates of Marine Mammal and Marine Turtle Bycatch by the
Pelagic Longline Fleet in 1999 - 2000. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOAA Fisheries-SEFSC-467, 43 p.
APPENDIX A COMMENTS AND RESPONSES
NOAA Fisheries received many comments during the comment period on the April 10, 2002, proposed rule. Comments are summarized here together with responses. NOAA Fisheries would like to thank all the people who took the time to comment and attend the public hearings.
A.1 Biological Opinion
Comment: The jeopardy finding of the June 14, 2001, BiOp is fundamentally flawed and treats the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery unequally compared to other domestic and international fisheries by trying to accomplish a 10-percent increase in pelagic stage juvenile loggerhead sea turtle survivorship in the entire North Atlantic basin by imposing a 55-percent reduction in sea turtle interactions by U.S. pelagic longline fishermen alone.
Response: Currently, NOAA Fisheries is in litigation concerning the BiOp and the resulting regulations and a court decision is pending. NOAA Fisheries believes that the BiOp and implementing regulations incorporate the best available scientific information concerning sea turtle populations and the HMS fisheries and do not impose an unfair burden on U.S. fishermen.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should attempt to quantify or account for the reductions in sea turtle mortality that have resulted from the requirement to possess and use dipnets and line clippers.
Response: Efforts are underway to examine the post-release status of sea turtles incidentally captured in the pelagic longline fishery. The BiOp provides estimated mortality rates for sea turtles ranging from 27 to 42 percent depending on where the sea turtles were hooked. The 2001 NED experimental fishery included a pilot program to assess the post-release mortality of loggerhead sea turtles and additional studies are scheduled for 2002. These analyses should provide greater insights into the reductions in mortality gained by the use of dipnets and line clippers.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should apply a moratorium on pelagic longline, gillnet, and other fishing gears that interact with sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean to improve the turtles' chances for survival.
Response: While the HMS BiOp concluded that the operation of the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery jeopardizes the continued existence of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, a reduction in mortality of 55-percent would avoid jeopardy. NOAA Fisheries can achieve this reduction in mortality without implementing a moratorium on pelagic longline gear. Regarding shark gillnet and other fishing gears, the HMS BiOp found that these activities may adversely affect but are not likely to jeopardize sea turtles, whales, and other protected species, and consequently, identified several measures to reduce mortality without the need for a moratorium of those gears. This action implements those measures; therefore, a moratorium of shark gillnet and other fishing gear is not warranted at this time.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should reinitiate consultation and consider more protective measures if gear restrictions do not provide the benefits anticipated in the biological opinion.
Response: NOAA Fisheries will evaluate the efficacy of the bycatch and bycatch reduction measures implemented in this action as well as the efficacy of measures already in place as the data become available for statistical analyses. If these and other measures are found to be insufficient, NOAA Fisheries will take appropriate action.
Comment: The United States must take action to increase the visibility of sea turtle conservation on an international scale with the goal of reducing international sea turtle interactions.
Response: The International Bycatch Reduction Task Force is organizing a meeting in late 2002 to address international sea turtle concerns. Also, the experiments being conducted in the NED area are intended to develop pelagic longline gear and/or fishing modifications to reduce sea turtle takes that can be transferred to international pelagic longline fleets.
Comment: Sea turtle populations are increasing.
Response: Trend information on loggerhead sea turtles demonstrates that the Florida subpopulation is increasing, but that the northern subpopulation, which has a large number of males, is relatively small and is either stable or declining. For leatherback sea turtles, there have been increases in the number of nests on some of the smaller nesting beaches, but the largest nesting beach has had a 15-percent decline in nests in recent years indicating a declining population.
A.2 Pelagic Longline Fishery
NED Area Closure
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should not close the NED area. It is unreasonable to close 2.6 million square nautical miles of the Atlantic Ocean when data show that the turtle interactions occur in a relatively small portion of the NED area and only during certain months.
Response: Based on the dynamic nature of ocean systems and the migratory nature of marine wildlife, closed areas have to be large to ensure they achieve the goal in reducing bycatch and bycatch mortality. NOAA Fisheries is aware that turtle interactions occur in a portion of the NED area; however, those interactions occur where and when pelagic longline fishing has occurred. Closing only that portion of the NED area where and when pelagic longline fishing has occurred could result in continued or increased takes of turtles in the remaining open area of the NED area if fishermen move there. Additionally, closing only part of the NED area could decrease human safety at sea if fishermen move into unfamiliar fishing areas even further offshore than the areas currently fished or fish during other times of year when weather conditions are poor.
Comment: By closing the NED, the most productive swordfish fishing grounds available to U.S. fishermen, NOAA Fisheries will create a situation in which foreign flag fleets supplant the U.S. fleet and will likely result in more sea turtles being killed because international fleets do not follow careful sea turtle handling and release guidelines like U.S. fishermen.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is conducting an experimental fishery in the NED area using vessels of the U.S. pelagic longline fleet to test various gear configurations. The goal of the experiment is to develop pelagic longline gear and/or fishing modifications to reduce sea turtles bycatch and bycatch mortality sufficiently so that the NED area can be reopened and the technology exported to the international pelagic longline fleets. In the event that no such gear or fishing modifications are developed and the NED area remains closed to the U.S. pelagic longline fleet, NOAA Fisheries is aware that international fleets may increase fishing effort in the NED area. Regardless of the results of the NED area experiment, NOAA Fisheries intends to pursue international sea turtle conservation agreements and measures.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should close the NED area to conventional pelagic longline gear but keep it open to fishermen who voluntarily agree to test new and innovative fishing techniques.
Response: NOAA Fisheries supports cooperative research with fishermen to develop pelagic longline gear and/or fishing modifications to reduce sea turtle interactions and is conducting an experimental fishery in the NED area using vessels of the U.S. pelagic longline fleet. That experimental fishery began in 2001 and will continue through 2003. After that time, NOAA Fisheries will evaluate the results of the experimental fishery and determine if the NED area can be reopened to pelagic longline vessels using modified fishing techniques, determine if further research is necessary and take appropriate action to conduct that research, or determine if no further research is warranted. NOAA Fisheries believes that the final action to close the NED area while also conducting the experimental fishery is essentially the same outcome as that suggested by the comment.
Comment: NED boats cannot simply go fish elsewhere as NOAA Fisheries predicts and remain profitable. Other coastal fishing areas are overcrowded, have competition with coastal longliners, and have gear conflicts with stationary lobster and crab gear.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is aware that not all other fishing areas are likely to be as profitable as the NED area for pelagic longline vessels that typically fished in the NED area. However, data available to NOAA Fisheries indicate that other areas, such as the Caribbean area, can be as profitable as the NED area. Additionally, data available to NOAA Fisheries indicate that NED vessels already fish in other areas, including the Caribbean, during winter months; thus, switching locations is not prohibitive for NED vessels. Also, in the short term, NED vessels can volunteer to participate in the NED experimental fishery. Participating in the NED experimental fishery can be profitable for these vessels in the short-term, and, in the worst case scenario, will allow these vessels time to plan their course of action if the experimental fishery does not produce results that would allow NOAA Fisheries to reopen the NED area.
Comment: Closing the NED area after closing the Florida Straits and Charleston Bump will direct increased effort into smaller and smaller areas and will increase regulatory discards that could result in more time and area closures.
Response: NOAA Fisheries intends to analyze the impacts of the time and area closures in the Florida east coast, Charleston Bump, and DeSoto Canyon as well as the NED area closure implemented by the emergency rule as the data become available for statistical analyses. NOAA Fisheries will take appropriate action at that time to address bycatch in the remaining open areas in light of effort redistribution as warranted.
Comment: Closing the NED area will prevent U.S. fishermen from enjoying the fruits of their hard-earned success in reversing the decline of swordfish.
Response: U.S. fishermen may fish for and land swordfish in U.S. waters under its quota from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and, as swordfish stocks recover, U.S. fishermen can reasonably expect to enjoy the benefits of a sustainable swordfish fishery.
Comment: Without the establishment of a sunset provision for the NED area closure, there is no assurance that it will ever be reevaluated.
Response: The NED area is closed to achieve most of the required 55-percent reduction mandated by the HMS BiOp. The experimental fishery in the NED area is designed to develop effective sea turtle bycatch reduction measures so that an area closure will not be necessary and the NED area can be reopened. Additionally, NOAA Fisheries intends to analyze the impact of all time and area closures implemented for HMS fishermen as data become available. Based on these analyses, NOAA Fisheries will modify any closures, as appropriate.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries must close the NED area to fishing by the U.S. pelagic longline fleet to ensure that it meets its legal obligations under the ESA and avoid jeopardy by reducing sea turtle bycatch. This closure would have the additional benefit of reducing the incidence of blue shark discards by U.S. fishermen.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is implementing such a closure.
Comment: The 2001 NED area experiment found that the gangion placement relative to floatlines shows a negative effect. NOAA Fisheries should rescind this requirement on the entire U.S. fleet at this time.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is not implementing that requirement.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement the alternative to prohibit setting gangions in close proximity to floatlines as the measure is projected to reduce the take of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles by 22 and 24 percent, respectively.
Response: The 2001 experimental fishery in the NED area demonstrated that this measure is not effective in reducing the incidental capture of sea turtles and may increase the interaction rate with leatherback sea turtles. Accordingly, NOAA Fisheries is not implementing that requirement.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries must analyze and quantify the benefits and drawbacks of the proposal to have gangion lengths be 110 percent of floatline length, including the economic impact of reduced target catch. This proposed alternative may have minimal effect on sea turtle survival as ocean currents or turtle movements could tangle the line.
Response: The economic impacts of the final actions are analyzed in the FSEIS. Additionally, the FSEIS provides the best available information concerning the effectiveness and impacts of the final actions. NOAA Fisheries believes that the measure will have a positive effect on sea turtle survival although no quantitative estimate is available at this time.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement the requirement for gangions to be longer than floatlines.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is implementing this requirement.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries needs to make a decision concerning the corrodible hook criteria and determine a policy for their implementation and extend it to all bycatch species and all HMS hook and line fisheries to increase post-release survival. The hooks should be used experimentally before being adopted on a larger scale.
Response: The current standard for corrodible hooks is that they be composed of non-stainless steel. NOAA Fisheries believes that many pelagic longline fishermen already use non-stainless steel hooks so that this measure should result in little change in costs or fishing practices while providing benefits to sea turtles although no quantitative estimates are available at this time. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries believes that finalizing this measure for the Atlantic pelagic longline fleet at this time is warranted. NOAA Fisheries may revise this standard at a future date as additional information becomes available. NOAA Fisheries intends to host a conference by the end of 2002 with sea turtle biologists and veterinarians to examine this issue.
Comment: Fishermen using other fishing gears are known to interact with sea turtles and should also be required to possess and use specific handling instructions for reference during their sea turtle interactions.
Response: NOAA Fisheries intends to develop fishery-specific sea turtle handling and release guidelines. At that time, NOAA Fisheries will take the appropriate action to ensure their distribution and use.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should require posting of sea turtle handling and release guidelines in the wheelhouse.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is implementing a measure that will require guidelines to be posted in the wheelhouse of all pelagic and bottom HMS longline vessel.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries needs to address several issues concerning sea turtle post-release survival, including differences in gear interactions between fisheries and oceans, tag reliability, and creating a strategy for research using the Atlantic pelagic longline fleet.
Response: The 2001 NED area experimental fishery included a pilot study that involved the deployment of 16 PSAT (pop-off satellite) tags on loggerhead sea turtles caught in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery. This study is scheduled to continue during the next two years of the experimental fishery and should effectively address the issues concerning sea turtle post-release survival following interactions with Atlantic pelagic longline gear.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should increase the level of observer coverage in the pelagic longline and shark gillnet fisheries to better monitor interactions with protected species.
Response: Observer coverage is an important way to monitor fishery interactions with protected species. NOAA Fisheries has determined the level of observer coverage necessary in the pelagic longline and shark gillnet fisheries to produce statistically rigorous estimates of protected species interactions and is implementing those coverage levels.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement a measure requiring pelagic longline vessels to carry a dehooking device on board.
Response: NOAA Fisheries believes that additional information concerning what types and techniques are optimal to reduce harm to sea turtles is needed before implementing such a measure. Several designs were tested in the 2001 NED experimental fishery and will continue to be tested in the 2002 NED area experimental fishery. NOAA Fisheries will take appropriate action based on the results of the experiment.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement the timely reporting of sea turtle mortalities and the proper release of incidentally caught turtles, which are important factors in assessing and reducing sea turtle mortality in the pelagic longline fishery.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is implementing a measure that requires HMS fishermen with pelagic longline on board to report lethal turtle takes within 48 hours of returning to port.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should not forgo the collection of data that may help the bycatch reduction of other incidentally caught species when conducting research to mitigate the impact of pelagic longline gear on sea turtles.
Response: Data are being collected that will permit the analysis of the impacts of the measures tested in the NED area experimental fishery on other incidentally caught species.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should consider the impact of gear modifications on other species besides sea turtles prior to exporting them to international fisheries.
Response: The impact of gear modifications on other species will be considered prior to promulgating regulations implementing measures for the pelagic longline fishery for species besides sea turtles and prior to exporting successful sea turtle take reduction measures to international fisheries.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement any additional measures found to be effective during the ongoing sea turtle research, however more attention should be paid to other protective measures such as time or area closures.
Response: NOAA Fisheries intends to implement measures found to be effective in reducing sea turtle bycatch and bycatch mortality in the NED area experiment, including time or area closures, as appropriate.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should continue to experiment with gear modifications that would reduce the mortality of sea turtles and implement new rules in response to new data about their effectiveness.
Response: NOAA Fisheries will continue to conduct such experiments.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should foster cooperation with the industry through truly cooperative research based on real science.
Response: NOAA Fisheries believes that the NED area experimental fishery is an example of cooperative research based on sound science.
A.3 Shark Gillnet Fishery
Comment: The requirement for shark gillnet fishermen to contact NOAA Fisheries and cease fishing in the event of a listed whale being taken will neither protect listed whales nor reduce the bycatch of these animals.
Response: According to the BiOp, the major known sources of anthropogenic mortality and injury to listed whales include entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship strikes. However, many of the reports of whale mortality cannot be attributed to a particular source. While to date, there has not been a confirmed interaction with a listed whale in the shark gillnet fishery, NMFS believes that it is appropriate to implement regulations that will enhance the response to an interaction with a listed whale and prevent a subsequent interaction by requiring the vessel to cease fishing immediately.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should prohibit gillnet sets within a five nautical mile radius of any sighted listed whale or, if the gear is already set, the removal of that gear from the water.
Response: NOAA Fisheries believes that current regulations under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan are adequate. Current regulations require shark gillnet fishermen to fish for sharks with a strikenet during times that right, humpback, fin or minke whales are present, require that no nets be set under limited visibility, prohibit setting of nets within three nautical miles of a whale, and require that gear be removed immediately from the water if a whale moves within three nautical miles of the gear.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement regulations that would prevent gillnet fishing if a listed whale were taken for the rest of the season or until whales are no longer sighted in that area based on seven consecutive sighting surveys.
Response: NOAA Fisheries believes that current regulations under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan are adequate. Additionally, NOAA Fisheries has the authority under the Endangered Species Act to implement temporary closures to reduce takes or potential takes, as appropriate.
Comment: The net check provision will likely offer little conservation benefit for marine mammals and sea turtles unless it is coupled with disentanglement response training.
Response: The net check provision will require the shark gillnet fishermen to check their nets every 0.5 to 2 hours which should reduce the mortality of any incidentally captured protected species. Disentanglement training was provided to fishermen in this fishery although attendance was low. NOAA Fisheries may pursue additional disentanglement training for shark gillnet fishermen in the future. Additionally, the requirement to notify NOAA Fisheries if a whale is taken will allow personnel trained in disentangling these animals to respond.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should maintain 100-percent observer coverage in the shark gillnet fishery due to the bycatch problems associated with this gear.
Response: Recently, the necessary level of observer coverage was statistically determined to be 53-percent outside right whale calving season and 100-percent coverage during right whale calving season. A statistically significant level of observer coverage would yield comparable results to 100- percent coverage. Additionally, given its limited resources, NOAA Fisheries believes that the resources that would be required to provide additional coverage outside the right whale calving season (not required statistically) are needed to provide additional observer coverage in other fisheries. NOAA Fisheries will maintain 100-percent observer coverage in this fishery during right whale calving season.
Comment: In addition to the preferred alternatives (requiring immediate reporting if a listed whale is taken; making the observer and vessel operator responsible for looking for whales; and frequent net checks), NOAA Fisheries should require fishermen to remove finfish bycatch in addition to protected species during net checks in the shark gillnet fishery.
Response: While NOAA Fisheries agrees that the preferred alternatives are appropriate for this fishery, NOAA Fisheries is concerned that requiring the removal of finfish bycatch may delay the completion of the net checks and could increase the bycatch mortality of any incidentally captured protected species. However, NOAA Fisheries encourages shark gillnet fishermen to remove finfish bycatch as quickly and with as minimal injury as practicable.
Comment: The size and low income of the shark gillnet fishery may not justify the high cost of the 100-percent observer coverage required during the right whale calving season compared to other observer needs.
Response: NOAA Fisheries is aware that observer coverage costs for this fishery are high relative to the number of participants in this and other fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is considering the use of vessel monitoring systems to decrease observer coverage costs for this fishery. The issue of vessel monitoring systems is currently in litigation and NOAA Fisheries is waiting for a decision from the court.
Comment: Shark gillnet fishermen should be required to check their nets continuously while deployed due to the numerous interactions with sea turtles and marine mammals. The 0.5 to 2 hour period between checking nets will result in unacceptably high sea turtle and marine mammal mortality. If the fishery cannot demonstrate that the gear can be fished cleanly, that gear should be prohibited for HMS species due to high bycatch of protected species.
Response: At this time, NOAA Fisheries believes that requiring net checks every 0.5 to 2 hours is sufficient to reduce protected species bycatch mortality. Currently, the average soak time for drift gillnets is 5.6 to 7.5 hours. Thus, drift gillnet fishermen will have to check the net between 3 and 15 times during an average soak. However, NOAA Fisheries intends to review protected species bycatch mortality data in the future as data on the efficacy of this requirement become available and will re-evaluate a requirement to conduct net checks continuously or other gear restrictions in this fishery if protected species bycatch mortality is not reduced.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should implement vessel monitoring systems to improve the enforceability of the closed areas. This would be less disruptive and less costly for the fishermen and the Coast Guard.
Response: This matter is currently in litigation. NOAA Fisheries is waiting for a decision from the Court.
Comment: Enforcement of the gangion length provision will be difficult at sea. NOAA Fisheries should consider developing criteria to provide guidance in this matter (for example, specify how many gangions would need to meet the 110-percent requirement to verify compliance).
Response: NOAA Fisheries will work with enforcement agents to develop guidance to enhance the enforceability of this measure.
Comment: Enforcement of the gangion placement provision will be difficult because the gear can slide on the mainline due to a variety of reasons.
Response: As this measure was found to be ineffective in reducing sea turtle bycatch in the NED area experimental fishery, NOAA Fisheries is not implementing the gangion placement requirement in this final action.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should consider a requirement that vessels fishing with bottom longline gear in an area closed to pelagic gear should not be allowed to possess pelagic species (i.e., tuna and sharks) and conversely, require that vessels fishing with pelagic gear not be allowed to have bottom species on board (i.e., some shark species) to increase enforcement.
Response: The time and area closures currently in place for pelagic longline fishermen were designed to reduce bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery and do not apply to bottom longline fishermen. Thus, extending any closure to bottom longline fishermen would require NOAA Fisheries to conduct the appropriate analyses and rulemaking. However, NOAA Fisheries will discuss this comment with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and consider its management implications.
Comment: NOAA Fisheries should prohibit possession of non-corrodible stainless steel hooks, not use of non-corrodible stainless steel hooks, because it would be difficult for the Coast Guard to enforce a use prohibition if the vessel is allowed to have both corrodible non-stainless steel and non-corrodible stainless steel hooks on board.
Response: NOAA Fisheries has modified the final action to prohibit vessels
from having hooks on board other than corrodible, non-stainless steel hooks
longline gear is on board.
Comment: The proposed definition of corrodible hooks as non-stainless steel would be enforceable at sea.
Response: NOAA Fisheries has implemented this provision.