The Pew Charitable Trusts has submitted two letters to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opposing the elimination of gear-restricted areas—important locations where the use of damaging fishing gear is prohibited—in sections of the Gulf of Mexico where bluefin tuna spawn. Although bluefin cannot legally be fished in the Gulf, surface longlines, which extend for miles with about 750 baited hooks, can catch and kill bluefin incidentally. On April 2, 2020, NOAA rescinded the prohibition, which began just five years ago and had significantly reduced such deaths among spawning tuna.
In a September 2019 letter, Pew joined the Ocean Foundation in asking that NOAA retain the gear-restricted areas. In a February 2020 letter, Pew joined the International Game Fish Association, the American Sportfishing Association, and the American Bluefin Tuna Association in again requesting that NOAA maintain the protections for bluefin tuna.
Pew worked on the rule establishing the gear-restricted areas to improve U.S. management of the severely depleted bluefin population and to support a decision by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas that has prohibited bluefin tuna fishing in the Gulf since 1982. Although targeted catch of bluefin will still technically be prohibited, NOAA’s decision will permit fishermen pursuing other species to use surface longlines, placing bluefin at renewed risk.