Via @pewenvironment: Big problem for big tuna (wasted catch):
According to new data just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), the surface longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic wasted almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin tuna quota. These new estimates show the highest levels of dead discards of bluefin caught on surface longlines since 1987.Surface longlines intended for swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas (excluding bluefin) stretch for up to 40 miles with hundreds of baited hooks.
In 2012, surface longline vessels discarded an estimated 239.5 mt of dead Atlantic bluefin. Many of those were caught in the Gulf of Mexico—the western population’s only known spawning area. The 239.5 mt statistic does not include 89.6 mt of fish landed (kept and sold) or those thrown back “alive,” many of which will die following release.
In response to these staggering numbers, as of June 25, NOAA Fisheries will prohibit surface longline vessels from keeping any more bluefin tuna caught this calendar year. However, that solution does nothing to prevent those same vessels from catching bluefin tuna while targeting yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Fishermen will need to throw overboard all of those bluefin; 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. The rule must:
· Close the Gulf of Mexico to surface longlining to protect spawning bluefin tuna and support the transition of surface longlines to more selective fishing methods;
· 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; and
· Improve monitoring of the surface longline fleet.
Once the agency publishes its rule, a comment period will immediately follow. During this time, the public can contact NOAA Fisheries and urge it to put forth a strong rule that stops the waste of bluefin tuna.
On a related note, fisheries managers and scientists from around the world are preparing to meet in Montreal, Canada next week (June 26-28). They will debate the potential recovery of western Atlantic bluefin tuna; the same fish that these new data suggest are being senselessly wasted. The outcome of the meeting will signal whether fisheries managers will choose tofollow the sound science that is necessary 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.
Tom Wheatley, who manages bluefin tuna conservation efforts in the U.S. for The Pew Charitable Trusts, is available to discuss the new bycatch data, its implications and the forthcoming proposed bluefin rule. Amanda Nickson, director ofglobal tuna conservation for Pew, will moderate a tele-press briefing this Thursday at 10 am EDT on next week’s bluefin meeting. Please let me know if I can get you any more information or set up any interviews.