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NOAA Reminder on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Regulations


November 22, 2011 - Recently, a New England groundfish vessel
incidentally caught an 881-pound bluefin tuna in a trawl net.
Bluefin Tuna Recently, a New England groundfish vessel incidentally caught an 881-pound bluefin tuna in a trawl net. At the dock, an officer with the Massachusetts Environmental Police conducted a routine boarding of the vessel. Knowing that bluefin tuna are carefully monitored and regulated, the officer notified NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement that a bluefin tuna had been caught.

At the dock, an officer with the Massachusetts Environmental Police conducted a routine boarding of the vessel. Knowing that bluefin tuna are carefully monitored and regulated, the officer notified NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement that a bluefin tuna had been caught.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement examined whether the vessel’s permits allowed it to catch, retain or sell the fish. The vessel had an Atlantic Tunas General category permit, which allows it to catch bluefin tuna, but only by using handgear (such as rod and reel, handline, and harpoon). There is no permit that allows bluefin tuna to be caught with trawl nets, even incidentally. Therefore, the vessel could not legally retain or possess this bluefin tuna.

This was explained, and the fisherman was issued a written warning under the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act. The fisherman voluntarily abandoned the fish to federal law enforcement agents.

If a bluefin tuna is caught with fishing gear that is not authorized, even incidentally, the bluefin tuna must be released and cannot be retained. This is important for the long-term sustainability of the species. 

Atlantic bluefin tuna are vulnerable to overfishing because they are so valuable. The bluefin tuna now reproducing off the U.S. coast are between just 21 and 29 percent of their historic population in the 1970s, and because they are slow to mature and reproduce, rebuilding is a lengthy process.

Regulations are written and enforced to ensure there is no incentive to pursue or retain the fish beyond what is allowed under the Fishery Management Plan. The goals of the regulations are to help rebuild the stock and to protect the fishermen who target and depend on this fishery. It is important to carefully follow the regulations so U.S. fishermen can retain their share, and the associated jobs and profits, of this international resource.

Fishermen with questions about bluefin tuna regulations can contact Brad McHale in NOAA’s Office of Highly Migratory Species at (978) 281-9260 or by email at brad.mchale@noaa.gov. Fishermen with other questions about complying with fishing regulations can contact Don Frei in NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement at (978) 675-2198 or by email at don.frei@noaa.gov.

For more information about the Atlantic bluefin tuna, please visit our website.