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Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: NOAA Fisheries Maintains Four-fish General Category (Commercial) Daily Retention Limit for September through December 2015

Posted: August 25, 2015

Actions being taken

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) maintains the current Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) General category (commercial handgear) daily retention limit of four large medium or giant BFT (i.e., four BFT measuring 73" or greater) per vessel per day/trip for September 1 through December 31, 2015. NMFS takes this action after considering the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, which include, among other things, available quota, fishery performance in recent years, the anticipated availability of BFT on the fishing grounds, and the effects of the adjustment on the BFT stock and on accomplishing the objectives of the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan. This adjustment is intended to provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. BFT quota without exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities; help achieve optimum yield in the BFT fishery; and collect a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes.

NMFS also considered the fact that it has prepared a final quota rule that would implement and give domestic effect to the 2014 ICCAT recommendation on western Atlantic BFT management, which increased the U.S. BFT quota for 2015 and 2016 by 14 percent from the 2014 level (proposed rule: 80 FR 33467, June 12, 2015; final rule expected to file with the Office of the Federal Register in late August and be effective in late September). The domestic subquotas proposed in that action would result from application of the allocation process established in Amendment 7 to the increased U.S. quota, and would include an increase in the General category quota from the currently codified 403 mt to 466.7 mt. However, the retention limits being set in this action are not dependent on those quota increases.
Given the rollover of unused quota from one time period to the next, current catch rates, and the fact that the daily retention limit will automatically revert to one large medium or giant bluefin tuna per vessel per day on September 1 absent agency action, NMFS anticipates that a one-fish limit would result in underharvest of the 2015 General category quota. A four-fish limit provides reasonable opportunity to harvest the available subquota without exceeding it while also maintaining equitable distribution of fishing opportunities, helping to achieve optimum yield, and collecting a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes. Although NMFS has the authority to set the daily retention limit to up to five fish, a limit of more than four fish could risk exceeding the available General category quota.

Who is affected?

The General category daily retention limit applies to vessels permitted in the commercial Atlantic tunas General category and the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category while fishing commercially. This limit is effective for all areas except for the Gulf of Mexico, which is designated as BFT spawning grounds and where NMFS does not allow targeted fishing for BFT. Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon landing. For example (and specific to the September through December 2015 limit), whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the daily limit of four fish may not be exceeded upon landing.

NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fisheries closely. Dealers are required to submit landing reports within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. General category, HMS Charter/Headboat, Harpoon, and Angling category vessel owners are required to report the catch of all BFT retained or discarded dead, within 24 hours of the landing(s) or end of each trip, by accessing hmspermits.noaa.gov. Depending on fishing effort and catch rates, additional retention limit adjustments or fishery closures may be necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.

NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 635.21(a)(1) require that all BFT that are released be handled in a manner that will maximize survivability, and without removing the fish from the water. For additional information on safe handling, see the Careful Catch and Release brochure available here.

This notice is a courtesy to BFT fishery permit holders to help keep you informed about the fishery. For additional information, call (978) 281-9260, or go to hmspermits.noaa.gov. Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.

 

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