NOAA Reports U.S. Surface Longline Fishery Wasted Almost 25 Percent of 2012 Bluefin Tuna Quota
The surface longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean wasted almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin tuna quota last year, according to data just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries.
These new figures show the highest level since 1987 of dead discards of bluefin caught on surface longlines. This fishing gear stretches for up to 40 miles with hundreds of baited hooks and is intended for catching swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas, excluding bluefin.
In 2012, surface longline vessels discarded an estimated 239.5 metric tons of dead Atlantic bluefin. Many of those were caught in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning area of the species' western population. This statistic does not include 89.6 metric tons of bluefin landed (kept and sold) or those thrown back “alive”— many of which were big, spawning fish that subsequently die following release.
In response to these numbers, NOAA Fisheries announced that as of June 25 it will prohibit surface longline vessels from keeping bluefin tuna caught during the remainder of this calendar year. But that action does nothing to prevent those same vessels from incidentally catching bluefin tuna while targeting swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas including bigeye. Fishermen will need to throw all bluefin overboard, though many will already be dead or dying.
A solution at hand
NOAA Fisheries is drafting new proposed bluefin tuna regulations, due out this summer. The agency could finally put forth a comprehensive solution to this decades-old problem that is only getting worse. To be effective, the rule must:
- Close the Gulf of Mexico to surface longlining to protect spawning bluefin tuna.
- Support the transition by fishermen from surface longlines to more selective fishing gear (PDF).
- Reduce bluefin mortality in the western Atlantic by enforcing a firm annual limit on the incidental catch of bluefin for the entire surface longline fleet.
- Improve monitoring of the surface longling fleet.
Fisheries managers and scientists from around the world are preparing to meet in Montreal on June 26-28, where they will debate the potential recovery of western Atlantic bluefin tuna. The outcome of the meeting will signal whether fisheries managers will choose to follow the sound science that is needed to allow this tuna population to recover or ignore precaution and return to crippling levels of overfishing. The latter could result in the collapse of the western Atlantic bluefin population.