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NOAA Fisheries Requests Comments on the Issuance of Exempted Fishing Permits and Related Permits for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species During 2017

Posted November 15, 2016

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces its intent to issue exempted fishing permits (EFPs), scientific research permits (SRPs), display permits, letters of acknowledgement (LOAs), and shark research fishery permits for the research and collection of Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) in 2017.  In general, EFPs and related permits would authorize collection of a limited number of tunas, swordfish, billfishes, and sharks from Federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico for the purposes of scientific data collection, bycatch research, public display, and to evaluate the efficacy of environmental clean-up efforts, among other things.  LOAs acknowledge that scientific research activity aboard a scientific research vessel is being conducted.  Chartering permits allow the owner of a U.S. fishing vessel to fish under a chartering arrangement, which is a contract or agreement between a U.S. vessel owner and a foreign entity by which the control, use, or services of a vessel are secured for a period of time for fishing for Atlantic HMS on the high seas or in the Exclusive Economic Zone of other nations.

Every year, NMFS receives applications to collect Atlantic HMS for fishery-independent surveys, public display, and scientific research.  The majority of EFPs and related permits described in this annual notice relate to scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS, and the impacts of the activities conducted have been previously analyzed in various environmental assessments and environmental impact statements for Atlantic HMS.  NMFS intends to issue these types of permits without additional opportunity for public comment beyond what is provided in this notice.  NMFS issued a total of 36 EFPs, SRPs, display permits, and LOAs in 2015 for the collection of HMS and a total of 5 shark research fishery permits.  As of October 4, 2016, NMFS has issued a total of 39 EFPs, SRPs, display permits, and LOAs and a total of 5 shark research fishery permits.  These permits were issued to NMFS and non-NMFS scientists, commercial fishermen, educational institutions, public aquaria, and public display collectors acquiring HMS.

In July 2016, NMFS issued an SRP to the research group, OCEARCH, to tag a variety sharks in federal waters.  Earlier in 2016, because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was in the process of conducting a mark-recapture study to assess the population and movement pattern of white sharks in their state waters, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts denied OCEARCH access to state waters.  Once OCEARCH began conducting research in Federal waters just outside of Massachusetts state waters, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and other organizations expressed concern regarding the potential impact of OCEARCH’s tagging activities on the mark-recapture study.  , NMFS may consider these issues and any related comments received on this notice if OCEARCH submits an application in 2017. 

Additionally, in 2014 and 2015, NMFS issued EFPs to the owner of an Atlantic bluefin tuna purse seine vessel that requested exemption from the annual incidental purse seine retention limit on the harvest of large medium Atlantic bluefin tuna.  NMFS may receive a similar request for an EFP in 2017 and requests comments, via this notice, on the continuation of such an EFP with similar terms and conditions.  If such an application requests exemptions that are significantly different than those provided in the 2014 and 2015 permits, NMFS will provide additional opportunity for public comment.

Occasionally, NMFS receives applications for research activities that were not anticipated, for research that is outside the scope of general scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS, or rarely, for an activity of a particularly controversial nature.  Should NMFS receive such applications, NMFS will provide additional opportunity for the public to comment, consistent with regulations at 50 CFR 600.745. 

Written comments on the collection, research, and fishing activities will be considered when issuing EFPs, SRPs, display permits, LOAs, shark research fishery permits, and chartering permits if received on or before December 16, 2016.  Please send comments to Craig Cockrell, Highly Migratory Species Management Division (F/SF1), NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.  Permit applications and copies of the regulations pertaining to EFPs, SRPs, LOAs, display permits, and chartering permits may also be requested from this address.  Shark research fishery permit applications can be received via information found in the request for applications, expected to publish shortly.  Comments on the issuance of any of these permits may also be sent via e-mail to nmfs.hms.efp2017@noaa.gov.

This notice is a courtesy to individuals interested in HMS fisheries activities to keep you informed about the fishery.  Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.  For further information, contact Craig Cockrell at (301) 427-8503.

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