The Latest on a New Bluefin Tuna Rule

Bluefin tunaThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) just released a pre-draft of a new fishing rule that could help shape the fate of western Atlantic bluefin tuna. This is a critical time in the rulemaking process and a critical time for this amazing species.

This spring, the agency began reviewing the way it manages this severely depleted fish in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it is developing a rule that could protect bluefin tuna and other marine wildlife from being incidentally killed by wasteful fishing gear.

The Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning area for western Atlantic bluefin tuna. U.S. commercial fishermen in the Gulf use surface longlines that average 30 miles in length to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish. In addition to catching those targeted species, this indiscriminate fishing gear catches and kills bluefin tuna and more than 80 types of other animals, including white marlin, sailfish, and endangered sea turtles.

Surface longlines have posed a serious threat for decades. Transitioning to more selective fishing methods in the Gulf of Mexico will help dramatically reduce the number of bluefin tuna and other marine life that is incidentally killed.

Transitioning to more selective fishing methods in the Gulf of Mexico will help dramatically reduce the number of bluefin tuna and other marine life that is incidentally killed.

NOAA Fisheries reviewed comments it received from more than 187,000 stakeholders during the scoping period and is getting closer to determining what options to include in the proposed rule, due out in early 2013. The Pew Environment Group is advocating that NOAA promote the transition from surface longlines to more selective gears (PDF), prohibit surface longline fishing year-round in the Gulf, and implement a strict limit on bluefin mortality from surface longlines in this fishery along the Atlantic coast.

From Sept. 19 to 21 in Bethesda, Md., NOAA Fisheries will convene a meeting of its Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel, which is responsible for providing feedback on the management of bluefin tuna and other species. One of the agenda items is this new bluefin tuna management rule. Pew Environment Group staff will attend the meeting and will be available for comment.

NOAA Fisheries has a unique opportunity to help protect one of the most remarkable fish in the sea. The agency can promote the transition from indiscriminate surface longlines to selective fishing gear, and prohibit surface longlines in the Gulf of Mexico to protect bluefin while still ensuring that U.S. commercial fishermen can catch and sell yellowfin tuna and swordfish.