Good News: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) has created a strong and balanced Final Rule that will reduce the waste of bluefin tuna and support the long-term sustainability of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery. The Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan was recently released implementing regulations to commence January 1.
The new and improved bluefin tuna fishery rule includes a suite of responsible management measures that work together to protect areas of high bluefin abundance, significantly reduce and control incidental catch of bluefin overall, and improve data collection and monitoring of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin fishery.
Management of the most magnificent and mercurial fish in the sea is NOAA Fisheries’s greatest challenge. Seven different ways of taking tuna must be regulated across six different calendar seasons from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine, swallowed by a changing ocean.
Commercial bluefin tuna fishing is grouped into seven different categories each with its own management plans. Bluefin may only be fished from permitted vessels, no fishing from oilrigs. Angling with no sale of catch permitted, may include catch-and-release, with rod and reel (including downriggers) handline and speargun (in specified instances). The Charter/headboat category are permitted vessels with rod and real, handline, and handline, bandit gear, and green-stick gear with specified speargun. The General categories are commercial fishing vessels taking catch to market using a combination of rod and reel, harpoon, bandit gear, green-stick, and/or handlines. The Harpoon category is only for the use of harpoons. The Longline category includes longline and green-stick. Purse seine is a category that includes spotter pilots. The last and smallest take category is Trap with pound net and fish weir.
NMFS estimates that the number of small entities that would be subject to these requirements would include the Longline category (252), Angling and Charter/Headboat category (3,968), General category (3,783), Harpoon category (14) and Purse Seine category (3). These estimates are based on the number of permit holders in commercial bluefin tuna fishing categories in 2013.
The management measures work together to reduce dead discards and otherwise reduce bycatch. The bluefin catch quota is calculated. The Longline category is allocated first. This is the only real downside to the rule, providing the surface longline fishery with additional bluefin quota at the expense of other more selective fisheries.
The remaining quota is divided among the categories according to the following percentages: General—47.1 percent (403 mt ww); Angling—19.7 percent (168.6 mt ww); Harpoon—3.9 percent (33.4 mt ww); Purse Seine—18.6 percent (159.1 mt ww); and Trap—0.1 percent (0.9 mt ww). Fortunately, NMFS may make inseason and annual adjustments to quotas, increase accountability, enhance reporting and monitoring, and optimize quota allocation, in a predictable but flexible manner.
The preferred measures would establish requirements to monitor dead discards for all commercial user categories to better . . . account for sources of bluefin tuna fishing mortality and to better monitor the fishery for bluefin accounting purposes domestically. The Purse seine category would be required to report dead discards via VMS, and hand gear fisheries. General, Harpoon, and Charter/headboat categories would be required to report using an automated catch reporting system via internet or phone. Longline category vessels would be required to coordinate installation and maintain a video and gear electronic monitoring system that would record all catch and relevant data regarding pelagic longline gear deployment and retrieval. . . The preferred electronic monitoring measure would support accurate catch data and the preferred bluefin tuna IBQ management measures, by providing a means to verify the accuracy of the counts and identification of bluefin reported by the vessel operator. ~ NOAA Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries set the General catch category quota at 403 mt ww. The catch is distributed across the five fishing seasons. The sixth season, at least April through May if not earlier, is closed to tuna fishing.
(A) January 1 through the effective date of a closure notice filed by NMFS announcing that the January subquota is reached, or projected to be reached under § 635.28(a)(1), or until March 31, whichever comes first—5.3 percent (21.4 mt ww);
(B) June 1 through August 31—50 percent (201.5 mt ww);
(C) September 1 through September 30—26.5 percent (106.8 mt ww);
(D) October 1 through November 30—13 percent (52.4 mt ww); and
(E) December 1 through December 31—5.2 percent (21 mt ww).
The science and management of bluefin tuna has come a long ways from the 1960s when the tuna was caught only for sport and from the nineteenth century when Boston-area scientists mistook a school of large bluefin for a single undulating giant animal, named the Gloucester Sea Monster. They were so pleased with their discovery that they were unable to see the fish for the figment of their imagination.
Today, “Boston Bluefin” is the tuna commanding the highest market prices. It is recognized for having the most fat marbled into the meat. The legend here is tuna that swim the cold waters between Provincetown and Boston will have the most fat marbled into the meat.
Built for speed, it is astounding to see a school of bluefin shredding the water. Recorded at 43 miles per hour, churning water into signature wakes, steel blue above and silver below, bluefin are robust with a body that is about one-fifth deep as long. Tapering back from the dorsal fins on top are nine finlets. Finlets march down to a very slender caudal peduncle. At the small of the tuna are little keels protruding on either side. Finlets and tiny keels indicate a very fast fish because like the feather on an arrow the higher the speed the less feather or fin it takes for stability. The tuna’s tail is an oversized lunate caudal fin. Lunate means crescent-shaped equally tall as deep with a trailing edge that would match the curvature of the moon should the tuna leap at just the right moment.