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U.S. Considers Cap On Accidental Bluefin Catches United States, November 4, 13

“No one wants to interact with bluefin,” said Terri Beideman, executive director of the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association, which represents about 120 tuna fishing vessels, most of them mom-and-pop operations, which are mosty targeting yellowfin tuna. “They come onto your gear accidentally . No one is targeting them.” By one estimate, 111 metric tons of bluefin were killed this way in one year.

The “by-catch” problem is slowing efforts to rebuild the bluefin population in the western Atlantic, which is at 36 percent of the 2012 level, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

Now, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. government agency that regulates offshore fishing, has waded into the controversy. It is proposing a complicated new plan designed to reduce the number of bluefin that long-liners inadvertently snare. The fish has been intensively managed for more than two decades, officials said, but the regulations need updating, in part to help reduce by-catch.

Under the proposal, the NMFS would sharply cut back on the number of bluefin tuna that individual fishing vessels are allowed to capture accidentally, setting a quota for each boat and requiring fishermen to include the bluefin they discard at sea under that cap. The NMFS also would change the longstanding formula by which it calculates the number of pounds of bluefin tuna that a long-liner may legally bring to shore for sale.

Any vessel that exceeds its cap for accidentally caught bluefin wouldn’t be able to leave the dock to fish for other species, according to the proposal. Cameras and human observers on board the fishing boats would monitor compliance.

The idea, said Margo Schulze-Haughen, chief of the NMFS’s highly migratory species management division, is to provide an economic disincentive to hook bluefin tuna.

We “give them the amount of bluefin per year,” she said. “Then they have to manage it.”

“Fishermen that are either unable or unwilling to avoid bluefin, I think they will have some difficulty,” Schulze-Haughen said. “But our analysis shows that three-quarters of the fleet will get an allocation that will enable them to continue fishing as they have.”

Beideman said her group is still working on its response to the proposed rules, which are open for public comment until Dec. 10. But she said she knows this: If the fleet that puts the vast majority of yellowfin tuna and swordfish on American plates is to survive, it needs greater bluefin quotas than the NMFS is proposing. Since bluefin swim with yellowfin, catching them is sometimes unavoidable, she and others have said, despite fishermen’s best efforts.