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Mandatory Observer Coverage for all Pelagic Longline Vessels Fishing the Mid-Atlantic Bight, including the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area, from December 1, 2015, through April 30, 2016

Posted October 15, 2015

NOAA Fisheries will be increasing mandatory observer coverage for pelagic longline vessels in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, including the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area, from December 1, 2015 through April 30, 2016.  This fact sheet provides additional information for vessel owners who may be selected for such coverage.


Why is NOAA Fisheries increasing observer coverage for pelagic longline vessels in the Mid-Atlantic Bight during this time period?  NOAA Fisheries is expanding observer coverage in this area as a way to help scientists better understand bluefin tuna stock structure, biology and behavior, and assist in the rebuilding of this valuable resource.  Bluefin tuna are valuable and highly exploited in international fisheries, and effective management relies on good quality data about the biology of the species and fisheries that harvest it.  The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is responsible for the management of Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks, and implemented a rebuilding plan in 1982.  The United States has taken many steps to conserve and manage U.S. fisheries for Atlantic bluefin tuna since the early 1980s. It is due in part to these measures and U.S. efforts internationally that Atlantic bluefin tuna are no longer subject to overfishing, although NOAA Fisheries has determined that the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock remains overfished.  


What will the observers do?  The pelagic longline fishery catches bluefin tuna in the Mid-Atlantic Bight as bycatch while fishing for swordfish or other tunas.  Observers will collect biological information and samples such as ear bones used to determine age, muscle tissue, and sex organs from harvested bluefin tuna or dead discards.  This will provide important data for scientists performing stock identification and structure analyses.  The increase in observer coverage also will supplement scientific research on the bycatch of protected and prohibited species in the pelagic longline fishery and the effectiveness of circle hooks in reducing bycatch.  Observer coverage will also provide data on the effectiveness of management actions to reduce bycatch of bluefin tuna, sea turtles (especially loggerhead and leatherback), and billfishes in longline fishing gear.


Are there any exceptions to the mandatory observer coverage?  The ONLY exception to mandatory observer coverage for pelagic longline fishing trips would be due to the unavailability of an observer.  If an observer is unavailable for a trip, NOAA Fisheries will waive the requirement for that trip only and will provide an authorization code as proof of waiver.  No written waivers will be issued.  Vessels that are required to carry an observer, but are inadequate or unsafe for the purpose of carrying an observer (e.g., no valid safety decal) or for allowing operation of normal observer functions (e.g., no berth), are prohibited from fishing per 50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 600.746(f).


If I am making a trip using pelagic longline gear in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (including the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area) from December 1, 2015, through April 30, 2016, how do I arrange to carry an observer?  You must contact the Pelagic Observer Program at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) Miami Laboratory in writing (mail or e-mail) at least five business days prior to your departure, and provide the following information:  (1) departure information including port, dock, date, and time; and (2) expected landing information, including port, dock, and date.  Contact:  Pelagic Observer Program, SEFSC, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, FL 33149; e-mail: popobserver@noaa.gov; phone: 1-800-858-0624.


If I have vessel permits that allow the use of pelagic longline gear, but plan to fish with other gear types from December 1, 2015, through April 30, 2016, should I still contact the NOAA Fisheries Pelagic Observer Program prior to a non-pelagic longline trip?  Yes, you should still contact the NOAA FisheriesPelagic Observer Program in writing five business days prior to departure, even if you are not fishing with pelagic longline gear.


What does the Pelagic Observer Program consider the Mid-Atlantic Bight?  The HMS regulations define the Mid-Atlantic Bight as “the area bounded by straight lines connecting the mid-Atlantic states’ internal waters and extending to 71° W. long. between 35° N. lat. and 43° N. lat.” (See 50 CFR 635.2).


If my vessel began a fishing trip prior to December 1, 2015, must I return to port to pick up an observer for the rest of the trip?  No, you may continue your fishing trip without an observer.  However, if you return to any port for any reason prior to April 30, 2016, you must contact the observer program before continuing to fish with pelagic longline gear.


When carrying an observer, must my vessel meet any special requirements (e.g., safety equipment)?  The increased observer coverage imposes no new requirements related to safety or equipment.  Vessels must continue to meet safety requirements specified under NOAA Fisheries regulations for the observer program (50 CFR 600.746).  In addition, please note that observers may be either male or female.  For additional information on requirements for carrying observers, please contact the NOAA Fisheries Pelagic Observer Program at 1-800-858-0624.


What is the Pelagic Observer Program?  The NOAA FisheriesPelagic Observer Program collects catch and effort data for the U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fleet fishing for swordfish and tunas.  This information provides NOAA Fisheries, university, and international scientists with information on the biology and sustainability of the sampled stocks, and is used by fishery managers to ensure the health of the marine ecosystem.  Further information about the Pelagic Observer Program can be found at http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/fisheries/observers/pelagic.htm.


Do NOAA Fisheries regulations authorize the use of observers for the pelagic longline fishery?  Yes.  The increased observer coverage is consistent with the existing regulations.  Observer coverage for Atlantic HMS fisheries is addressed in the CFR at 50 CFR 635.7.  Observer coverage for domestic fisheries is addressed in general at 50 CFR 600.746.  You can access these regulations at the following website:  http://www.ecfr.gov/


How can I find out more about management of HMS fisheries?  You can access HMS fishery management information from the NOAA Fisheries website or by calling (301) 427-8503. You can also receive email informational messages about current HMS fishery management issues by signing up for Atlantic HMS News here.

 

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