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NOAA Fisheries Announces A Proposed Rule To Remove Vessel Upgrade Restrictions For Swordfish Directed And Atlantic Tuna Longline Category Limited Access Permits

July 25, 2016

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has published a proposed rule to remove vessel upgrade regulations for vessels issued swordfish directed and Atlantic tunas Longline category limited access permits (LAPs).  The purpose of this proposed rule is to ease a barrier to entry in the pelagic longline fishery, facilitate limited access permit transfers, provide increased business flexibility, and help vessel owners address safety issues.

When first issued in 1999, swordfish directed LAPs included restrictions on vessel upgrading (e.g., increasing vessel size or horsepower) and on permit transfers.  In 2007, vessel upgrade restrictions were implemented for Atlantic tunas Longline category permits.  The restrictions were put into place to limit capacity in the pelagic longline fishery because the fleet was overcapitalized at the time, and the swordfish stock was overfished. 

However, since 1999, several important things have changed.  Management measures to reduce bycatch (e.g., closed areas, bait requirements, individual bluefin tuna quotas, and gear restrictions) have constrained fishing effort and reduced overall capacity in the fishery.  The stock status of north Atlantic swordfish has also significantly improved, and is no longer overfished.  The overall reduction in fleet capacity that has occurred, in combination with the totality of effort controls implemented since 1999, sufficiently limits the fishery’s capacity today.  NMFS also has heard from permit holders that the vessel upgrading regulations restrict their ability to transfer permits to newer vessels, which could have greater capacity, to address safety issues that exist with older vessels.   

For these reasons, NMFS is considering removing vessel upgrading regulations for swordfish directed and Atlantic tunas Longline LAPs.  Although limited in scope, this proposed rule would ease a barrier to entry in the pelagic longline fishery, facilitate LAP transfers, provide increased business flexibility, and help vessel owners address safety issues.   

The comment period for this proposed rule is open until September 26, 2016.   NMFS will conduct a conference call/webinar from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. on August 23, 2016, to obtain public comment.  To participate in the conference call, call 888-843-6165; Passcode: 6512640.  To participate in the webinar, go to:  Meeting number: 998 920 078; Meeting password: NOAA.

Written comments, identified by “NOAA-NMFS-2016-0087”, may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, or sent by mail to the contact information included below.   All comments received are a part of the public record and generally will 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.

This notice is a courtesy to Atlantic 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 Rick Pearson at 727-824-5399 or Steve Durkee at 202-670-6637.  Copies of the proposed rule are available upon request from the HMS Management Division, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 20910.


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