Your Chance to Help Bluefin Tuna
The National Marine Fisheries Service has recently proposed a new rule to reduce the wasteful catch of bluefin tuna on longlines. While the rule is a step in the right direction, some changes are necessary to better protect this important fish.
Each year, longlines, stretching up to 40 miles long with hundreds of baited hooks, are used to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish, but they also catch more than 80 unintended marine species, including the deeply depleted Atlantic bluefin tuna. Because longline fishermen are only allowed to retain a limited amount of bluefin tuna, they must discard many of the bluefin they catch back to sea, even though they come up dead. A significant amount of this wasteful bluefin tuna catch occurs off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where bluefin tuna concentrate at certain times of the year, and in the Gulf of Mexico, the sole area on this side of the Atlantic Ocean where bluefin tuna come to breed. This wasteful catch is harming the Atlantic bluefin tuna population. For more information please see our recent blog post- Bluefin Tuna: Promise and Problems in a New Government Proposal.
The Safina Center is writing to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to urge them to strengthen the proposed rule and provide stronger protection to bluefin tuna. If you would like to let your voice be heard, below is a sample letter you can send. You can submit your letter electronically here or mail to Thomas Warren, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, NMFS, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Please mark the outside of the envelope “Comments on Amendment 7 to the HMS FMP.”
Dear Mr. Warren,
I urge you take advantage of this historic opportunity to reduce the wasteful catch of depleted Atlantic bluefin tuna on longlines and protect this important fish. For decades U.S. longline fishermen have caught and killed bluefin tuna. Significant amounts of this bluefin tuna catch occur off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico, the only breeding area for bluefin tuna on this side of the Atlantic. Longline fishermen frequently catch more bluefin tuna than they are allowed to keep, requiring them to discard large numbers of bluefin back to sea, dead.
The proposed rule by the National Marine Fisheries Series is a step in the right direction toward ending this waste, but some changes are necessary to ensure bluefin tuna get the protection they need and deserve. The small Gulf of Mexico closure proposed by the NMFS excludes an important breeding area for bluefin tuna in the north central Gulf where bluefin catch is high. Therefore the NMFS should expand this closure to include the entire Gulf of Mexico and extend the length of the closure to cover the peak breeding season for bluefin tuna, March-May. In addition the NMFS should establish the five month Cape Hatteras longline closure that restricts fishing for all longline vessels.
Further, the NMFS should minimize the waste of dead bluefin released back to sea by implementing a bluefin tuna catch cap for the longline fishery and the associated individual bluefin quota system. The NMFS should not provide any additional bluefin tuna quota to the longline fishery beyond its current share of 8.1%. Giving additional bluefin tuna quota to the longline fishery would undercut the benefits of the bluefin tuna catch cap and associated measures.
Strengthening the proposed rule as outlined above would eliminate much of the wasteful bluefin tuna catch that occurs on longlines each year. It would also encourage the use of more selective fishing methods, capable of avoiding the lethal catch of bluefin and other non-target ocean wildlife.
Thank you for your time and consideration.