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NMFS Announces March 12 Closure of the Commercial Blacktip Shark, Aggregated Large Coastal Sharks, and Hammerhead Shark Management Groups in the Western Gulf of Mexico Sub-Region

March 7, 2016

Commercial shark dealer reports indicate that the commercial landings of aggregated large coastal sharks (LCS) and hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region have exceeded 80 percent of the available quota by March 7, 2016 (see Table 1).  Due to these exceedances (50 CFR § 635.28(b)(3)) and the fact that the quotas for the aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark management groups in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region are linked (50 CFR § 635.28(b)(4)(iii)) and must close together, the aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark management groups in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region must close.  The blacktip shark quota is not linked to the aggregated LCS or hammerhead shark quota and has not reached 80 percent of the available quota as of March 7, 2015.  However, regulations at 50 CFR 635.28(b)(5) authorize closure of the blacktip shark management group before landings have reached, or are projected to reach, 80 percent of the quota, after considering various criteria and other relevant factors.  In this case, after considering applicable criteria and factors, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is closing the blacktip shark fishery in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region to minimize regulatory discards of aggregated LCS, which are often caught in conjunction with blacktip sharks in the commercial shark fisheries.  Thus, consistent with the regulations, NMFS is closing the commercial fisheries for blacktip sharks and the linked aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark management groups in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region as of 11:30 p.m. local time March 12, 2016.  From the effective date and time of the closure until and if NMFS announces via a notice in the Federal Register that additional quota is available and the season is reopened, the management groups for those specified quotas will remain closed, even across fishing years. 

Table 1.  2016 Quotas, Landings, and Projected Landings for Blacktip, Aggregated LCS, and Hammerhead Sharks in the Western Gulf of Mexico Sub-Region

Western Gulf of Mexico Management Group

2016 Quota

Landings reported as of March 7, 2016

Closure Date

Blacktip Sharks

266.5 mt dw

142.4 mt dw (53% of quota)

March 12, 2016

Aggregated LCS*

72.0 mt dw

61.2 mt dw 

(85% of quota)

Hammerhead Sharks*

11.9 mt dw

13.3 mt dw

(125% of quota)

* Management groups are linked and close at the same time

During the closure, retention of blacktip sharks, aggregated LCS, and/or hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region is prohibited for persons fishing aboard vessels issued an Atlantic shark limited access permit (LAP) under 50 CFR 635.4, unless the vessel is properly permitted to operate as a charter vessel or headboat for HMS and is engaged in a for-hire trip, in which case the recreational retention limits for sharks and “no sale” provisions apply (50 CFR 635.22(a) and (c)), or if the vessel possesses a valid shark research permit under 50 CFR 635.32 and a NMFS-approved observer is onboard.  During this closure, a shark dealer issued a permit pursuant to 50 CFR 635.4 may not purchase or receive of blacktip sharks, aggregated LCS, and/or hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region from a vessel issued an Atlantic Shark LAP, except that a permitted shark dealer or processor may possess of blacktip sharks, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region that were harvested, off-loaded, and sold, traded, or bartered, prior to the effective date of the closure and were held in storage consistent with 50 CFR 635.28(b)(5).  Additionally, a permitted shark dealer or processor may possess blacktip sharks, aggregated LCS, and/or hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region that were harvested by a vessel issued a valid shark research fishery permit per 50 CFR 635.32 with a NMFS-approved observer onboard during the trip the sharks were harvested as long as the LCS research fishery quota remains open.  Similarly, a shark dealer issued a permit pursuant to 50 CFR 635.4 may, in accordance with state regulations, purchase or receive blacktip sharks, aggregated LCS, and/or hammerhead sharks in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region if the sharks were harvested, off-loaded, and sold, traded, or bartered from a vessel that fishes only in state waters and that has not been issued an Atlantic Shark LAP, HMS Angling permit, or HMS Charter/Headboat permit pursuant to 50 CFR 635.4.

This notice is a courtesy to the HMS fishery participants to help keep you informed about the fishery.  For further information on this landings update or the closure, contact Guy DuBeck or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at 301-427-8503.