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NMFS Annouces the Issuance of an Exempt Fishing Permit (EFP) for a Purse Seine Vessel

August 1, 2014

NMFS published a notice in the Federal Register on June 30, 2014 (79 FR 36728) to solicit comments on an application for an EFP to exempt a purse seine vessel from the annual incidental purse seine retention limit on the harvest of large medium Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) (i.e., measuring 73 to less than 81 inches curved fork length).  The purpose of the EFP is to investigate and gather data regarding reducing discards of large medium BFT in the purse seine fishery.  We received 27 comments related to the application that ranged from support to opposition. 

After considering the comments received, we have decided to issue the EFP with specific terms and conditions that must be met for the EFP to be valid.  If the terms and conditions of this EFP are met, under this EFP, the vessel operator will be exempt from the regulations at 50 CFR § 635.23 (e)(1) and will be able to fish for, retain, possess, and land BFT greater than 73” up to the total 99.4 mt of quota currently available to the vessel after accounting for landings made to date.  Regardless of the size of the BFT, all BFT mortality (landings and dead discards) incurred while fishing under this permit would be counted against both the quota allocated to the vessel and the overall BFT Purse Seine category quota.

The terms and conditions that must be met are as follows: (1) a NMFS-approved observer must be onboard all trips taken under this EFP.  In order to depart on a trip under this EFP the vessel operator must notify the Northeast Observer program at least 48 hours before departing the dock.  Although not likely, if an observer is not available, the vessel may fish under current regulations (i.e., without any exemptions); (2) all BFT dead at haulback must be brought on board and made available to the observer for sampling; (3) if BFT caught appear to be smaller than the commercial minimum size, those BFT may be released and not counted against the quotas if the observer determines the fish appear to be in good condition and the fish are released in a manner that ensures maximum probability of survival; (4) if the observer determines these small BFT have a high likelihood of mortality, the vessel operator does not have the option of releasing the smaller fish and would have to bring all catch on board and provide the observer the opportunity to sample those fish and count the fish against the quotas; and (5) the observer has sole discretion to determine if such fish may be released and when sampling is appropriate.  Samples taken from BFT may include but are not limited to lengths, otoliths, blood, vertebrae, muscle tissues, organ tissues, and fin clips.  Researchers interested in obtaining BFT samples may contact the Northeast Observer Program by contacting (508-566-5988).

The EFP is valid from the date of issuance to December 31, 2014.  The authorized vessel listed on the permit is only exempt from the regulations at 50 CFR § 635.23 (e)(1), annual incidental large medium retention limit for BFT, and any prohibitions at § 635.71 relating to the above exemption.  All other applicable regulations apply while fishing.

For more information about the EFP please contact Craig Cockrell, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, NMFS at: (301) 427-8503 or


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