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U.S. Seeking Ways To Make Responsible Tuna Fishermen More Competitive

NOAA’s Fisheries Service is holding a series of public meetings this summer seeking comments on potential changes in the way commercial and recreational fishermen fish the U.S. quotas for swordfish and bluefin tuna in the Atlantic.
In the case of both fish stocks, U.S. fishermen have not been able to catch the U.S. quota, which were designed to ensure that the stocks are fished sustainably.
While these species are managed internationally, the United States manages the domestic part of these fisheries by taking into account the ecosystem and working to reduce bycatch of turtles and other species.
This ecosystem and by-catch reduction approach increases expenses for U.S. fishermen and makes it more difficult for them to compete in the marketplace with cheaper imports from fishing nations that subsidize their fleets and do not use an ecosystem approach.
“Swordfish are nearly rebuilt, yet our fishermen are only catching 54 percent of the
U.S. quota,” said Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA’s
Fisheries Service. “Bluefin tuna are a more complicated story. U.S. fishermen have followed quotas based on scientific recommendations designed to end overfishing. There may be ways to fish more of the U.S. quotas for both stocks in a sustainable manner.”

The public process will also be a chance to examine using “catch shares,” which would allocate a portion of the total catch to a person, company, community or sector, to better manage these fisheries. NOAA will also examine new ways to limit the bycatch of sea turtles, marine mammals, or undersized, prohibited and spawning fish in the bluefin and swordfish fisheries.
“We’ve heard a number of ideas from constituents and we want to broaden the conversation to include recreational fishermen, environmental organizations and the general public on how best to manage these valuable highly migratory fish species,” said Balsiger.
This effort to involve the public comes as NOAA’s Fisheries Service announces this
Season’s bluefin tuna quota for U.S. commercial and recreational fishermen. The rule puts in place reductions in overall quota that were adopted at the November 2008 meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the international body that manages tuna, swordfish and other species that cross international boundaries.

The rule, which published on June 1, raises the daily catch limit from one to two bluefin tunas for recreational fishermen. NOAA had originally proposed a daily limit of one but raised the limit to two per day after reviewing comments from the fishing industry and analyzing the change for consistency with the bluefin tuna rebuilding program. The new rule maintains the three-fish per day limit for commercial fishermen.
NOAA received many comments and suggestions during the recent bluefin tuna rulemaking on ways to improve long-term management of bluefin and swordfish. These proposals will now be part of this summer’s public process.
In addition to considering catch shares and bycatch reduction, some of the proposals that will be discussed include:
* an industry request to allow more bluefin tuna to be landed that have been incidentally caught in longline fishing gear
* a proposal to allow approximately 5.000 commercial tuna fishermen who use rod and reel to land swordfish at low catch levels
* an industry request to lower the commercial minimum size for bluefin tuna from 73 to 65 inches