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NOAA Fisheries Announces a Proposed Rule to Revise Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Archival Tag Management Measures

April 13, 2016

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces a proposed rule to revise the requirement in 50 CFR § 635.33 for persons surgically implanting archival tags to Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) or externally affixing archival tags to such species to obtain written authorization from NMFS and for fishermen to report their catch of Atlantic HMS with such tags to NMFS.  Archival tags are tags that electronically record scientific information about the migratory behavior of fish.  This includes tags that are surgically implanted within a fish and tags that are externally affixed, such as pop-up satellite (PSAT) and smart position and temperature tags (SPOT).

The current regulations regarding archival tags have three parts.  First, researchers must have written authorization from NMFS to implant or affix archival tags onto fish.  Second, if a fisherman catches an HMS with an archival tag, the fisherman may land the HMS, regardless of the other regulatory requirements for that fish (e.g., size limit, season, etc.), if the fisherman complies with the third part of the regulations.  The third and last part, called a “landing report,” requires fishermen landing an HMS with an archival tag to contact NMFS prior to the time of landing, furnish all requested information, and either makes the fish available for inspection or return the tag to NMFS.

NMFS is proposing to modify all parts of the regulation and requests comments on all proposed modifications.  Specifically, regarding the first part of the regulation, NMFS proposes removing the requirement for researchers to obtain written authorization from NMFS to implant or affix an archival tag.  Regarding the second and third parts of the regulations, NMFS is proposing removing the landings report requirement while maintaining the regulatory incentive that HMS caught with a surgically implanted archival tag could be retained, notwithstanding other regulations, on the condition that the surgically implanted tag is returned to either the originating researcher or to NMFS.  The modified regulation would no longer require the person retaining the fish to submit a landing report to NMFS or make the fish available for inspection and tag recovery by a NMFS scientist, enforcement agent, or other person designated in writing by NMFS.  

In addition to the changes to the regulations, based on a request of an HMS Advisory Panel member, we are also requesting comments on whether fishermen who catch a fish with an externally attached archival tag, such as a PSAT, should be required to release the fish even if the fish is otherwise legal to land (e.g., meets the minimum size restrictions and caught with appropriate gear) in order to allow scientists to continue to gather scientific data and information from the tagged live fish.

The comment period for this proposed rule is open until May 16, 2016.  Written comments, identified by “NOAA-NMFS-2016-0017”, may be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal, or sent by fax or mail to the contact information included below.  All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to without change.  All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible.  Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.  NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required fields, if you wish to remain anonymous).  You may submit attachments to electronic comments in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

NMFS does not intend to hold a public hearing for this proposed rulemaking.  However, NMFS will consider holding a public hearing upon specific request. 

This notice is a courtesy to the HMS fishery participants to help keep you informed about the fishery.  Official notice of Federal actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of Federal Register.  For further information on this proposed rule, contact Craig Cockrell or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at 301-427-8503.  Copies of the proposed rule are available upon request from the Highly Migratory Species Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (phone: 301-427-8503, fax: 301-713-1917). 


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