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NOAA Fisheries Announces a Proposed Rule to Modify Individual Bluefin Tuna Quota (IBQ) Program Regulations for Accounting for Bluefin; Request for Comments

Posted: October 24, 2017

NOAA Fisheries proposes to modify the Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) regulations to require vessels in the pelagic longline fishery to account for bycatch of bluefin tuna using Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) on a quarterly basis instead of before commencing any fishing trip with less than the minimum required IBQ balance or with quota debt.

Specifically, this proposed rule would modify the regulations to allow vessels to fish with a low IBQ balance or with quota debt during a calendar quarter.  Vessels would still be required to coordinate with dealers to report bluefin tuna catch at the end of each trip (and account for it with IBQ), but this regulatory change would provide the flexibility to fish even if the vessel has less than the minimum amount of IBQ, including quota debt, until the first fishing trip in each calendar quarter. 

For example, as proposed, if a vessel has a low balance or quota debt in January 2018, the vessel would be allowed to fish without first resolving that low balance or quota debt through March 31, 2018.  In order to depart on a pelagic longline fishing trip in the following quarter, starting April 1, 2018, that vessel would need to lease additional IBQ to resolve the quota debt and acquire the minimum amount of IBQ required to fish.

This proposed regulatory change would maintain vessel accountability for bluefin tuna catch and the associated incentives for vessel operators to minimize catch of bluefin tuna. By changing the timing of the accountability, the proposed rule would provide some additional flexibility in vessel operations to determine when and at what price vessel owners lease additional quota and resolve quota debt.  The proposed rule would provide reasonable opportunity to catch available quota for target species (i.e., swordfish and yellowfin tuna).

The timing of the accounting for bluefin tuna by pelagic longline vessels within a particular fishing/calendar year affects the financial and timing dynamics of a vessel’s fishing operation, but does not modify the annual U.S. bluefin tuna quota, nor the fishing mortality associated with that quota.  The annual U.S. bluefin tuna quota and subquota allocations to the Longline category would not be affected by this proposed rule.

Public Comment Requested

You may submit comments (identified by “NOAA-NMFS-2017-0119”) through November 24, 2017, by using any one of the following methods:

 Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries. All comments received are a part of the public record and generally will be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NOAA Fisheries will accept anonymous comments (enter "N/A" in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).

 Public Hearing/Webinar

NOAA Fisheries will hold a public hearing conference call and webinar on October 31, 2017, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  The public hearing conference call information is phone number (888) 391-7048; participant passcode 8277768. Participants are strongly encouraged to log/dial in 15 minutes prior to the meeting. NOAA Fisheries will show a brief presentation via webinar followed by public comment. To join the webinar, go to: https://noaaevents3.webex.com/noaaevents3/onstage/g.php?MTID=e54f7226a1f5760de0610e7545c3e472e; meeting number: 990 093 099; password: NOAA. Participants who have not used WebEx before will be prompted to download and run a plug-in program that will enable them to view the webinar.

 This notice is a courtesy to fishery participants to help 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 Thomas Warren at (978) 281-9260 or Carrie Soltanoff at (301) 427-8503.  This information will also be posted on the HMS website at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms.

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