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NMFS Changes Bluefin Tuna Regulations
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is adjusting the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) daily retention limits that apply to Angling, Charter/Headboat, and General category, as shown in the table below. NMFS is maintaining the default Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Harpoon category BFT daily retention limit. In addition, NMFS is announcing July 6, 2015 as the start date for this year's Purse Seine category BFT.

Angling Category (private, HMS Angling Category-permitted vessels):

1 BFT 27" to less than 47" - May 15th to December 31st
1 BFT 47" to less than 73" - May 15th to December 31st

Angling Category (HMS Charter & Headboats when fishing recreationally):

2 BFT 27" to less than 47" - May 15th to December 31st
1 BFT 47" to less than 73" - May 15th to December 31st

General Category (HMS Charter & Headboats when fishing commercially):

4 BFT 73" or greater - June 1st to August 31st

In deciding these retention limits, NMFS considered the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, which include available quota, fishery performance in recent years, availability of BFT on the fishing grounds, and the effects of the adjustment on the stock and on accomplishing the objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and amendments. These limits should provide opportunities to harvest the available U.S. BFT quota without exceeding it; prevent overharvest of the 2015 quotas; and collect a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes.

Purse Seine Category BFT Fishery Start Date: Consistent with Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, NMFS makes an annual determination when the Purse Seine category fishery will start (between June 1 and August 15), based on variations in seasonal distribution, abundance or migration patterns of BFT, cumulative and projected landings in other commercial fishing categories, the potential for gear conflicts on the fishing grounds, or market impacts due to oversupply. Based on these considerations, NMFS determined that a 2015 Purse Seine category BFT fishery start date of July 6 is warranted. The July 6 start date would alleviate issues with potential gear conflicts (including over the July 4 holiday weekend) and market impacts, balancing the needs of the BFT fisheries. It would provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. BFT quota, without exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities; help achieve optimum yield in the Purse Seine category BFT fishery; and be consistent with the objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, as amended.

Who is affected?

These daily retention limits apply to vessels permitted in the recreational HMS Angling category and the HMS Charter/Headboat category while fishing recreationally, as well as the commercial Atlantic tunas General and Harpoon categories and the HMS Charter/Headboat category while fishing commercially. The daily retention limits are effective for all areas except for the Gulf of Mexico, which is designated as BFT spawning grounds and where NMFS does not allow targeted fishing for BFT. Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon landing. For example (and specific to the June-August 2015 limit), whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the daily limit of four fish may not be exceeded upon landing.

NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fisheries closely. Dealers are required to submit landing reports within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. General category, HMS Charter/Headboat, Harpoon, and Angling category vessel owners are required to report the catch of all BFT retained or discarded dead, within 24 hours of the landing(s) or end of each trip, by accessing hmspermits.noaa.gov. Depending on fishing effort and catch rates, additional retention limit adjustments or fishery closures may be necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.

NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 635.21(a)(1) require that all BFT that are released be handled in a manner that will maximize survivability, and without removing the fish from the water. For additional information on safe handling, see the Careful Catch and Release brochure available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.

The Purse Seine category BFT fishery start date applies to vessels permitted in the Purse Seine category. Consistent with the regulations implementing Amendment 7, purse seine vessel operators are required use their vessel monitoring system (VMS) to report to NMFS as follows: For each purse seine set, as instructed by NMFS, the date and area of the set, and the length of all BFT retained (actual), and the length of all BFT discarded dead or alive (approximate), must be reported within 12 hours of the completion of the retrieval of each set.

This notice is a courtesy to BFT fishery permit holders to help keep you informed about the fishery. For additional information, call (888) 872-8862 or (978) 281-9260, or go to hmspermits.noaa.gov. Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.

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