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Highly Migratory Species Report

By John Keogler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association November 1999 Newsletter)

This winter the recreational lawsuit against NMFS on yellowfin tuna and sharks will be heard. Originally, scheduled for Newark, New Jersey a request by the NMFS shifted the jurisdiction to Washington, D.C. The recreational case is strong. The issues involved apply not just to HMS species but to all fishery management plans. NMFS bias against recreational fishermen is clear and illegal. The Tuna plan clearly violates several of the Ten National Standards that are the guidelines. However, holding the trial in Washington where politics comes first, creates an uncomfortable feeling. Everyone's support is needed, those fishing clubs and organizations that have not made a donation to the RFA legal defense fund funding this lawsuit are encouraged to make a quality donation.

The US ICCAT advisors meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring, MD on Sunday Afternoon October 24 with a public comment session starting at 1 PM. On Monday the public will hear technical reports until noon. Later the Advisors will go into closed session that will cover issues the US will support during the yearly meeting held on November 15-22 in Brazil.

This will be the second year that the European and that other ICCAT Eastern Atlantic nations must report their Bluefin Tuna quota landings. They must report their 1998 landings and the efforts each nation made to stay within their quota. The Bluefin plan requires all overages to be deducted from next year's allocation. Compliance with ICCAT's rules will either set the stage for strengthening the management plans or set the stage for ICCAT's demise. There are new forces at work. South American and African coastal nations with no HMS fishery desire a piece of the HMS pie. The pie is fully utilized. The only way new nations can share in the HMS allocation is for current members to sharply reduce their quota and share it with these new fishers. How likely do you think that is?

The major European fishers are ignoring ICCAT's rules. Minimum sizes are ignored. The current landings of illegal undersized tuna are staggering in size of the landings. Example are

1- Skipjack- Skipjack landings had grown rapidly since 1991 when a new purse seine FAD Fishery between Africa and Brazil began. Long considered, skipjack so prolific that no regulation would ever be required experienced a huge drop from 660,000 MT to 440,000 MT. Tiny Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna species are landed in huge numbers as an illegal bycatch of this fishery. Three years ago, a three-month voluntary restriction was imposed to control the fishery and avoid ICCAT closure. This fishery should have been closed to end the huge illegal landing of tiny bigeye and yellowfin. The fishery reports 30% lower landings, but it has yet to be determined if this reduction was due to reduced fishing effort or reduced availability.

2- Yellowfin tuna- over 50?f the total 1997 landings of 130,800 MT or 65,400 MT of the landings are under 3.2 kg or 7 pounds. This catch of illegal small tuna is almost entirely from the FAD purse seine fishery. If not ended our tuna fishing fades away.

3- Bigeye Tuna- over 70?f the total 1997 catch of 95 ,000MT or 67,000MT is illegal

under ICCAT rules. This percentage has grown from 209n 1988 to 70s the new purse seine fishery on FAD's in the Atlantic has grown to a huge unsustainable size.

This year's ICCAT meeting will focus on creating a 10-year swordfish rebuilding plan. The current national quota plan had marginal success in reducing European swordfish landings. As national quotas were filled, European fishers landed their catch at former colonies or non-member nations, avoiding compliance and fishing effort reductions.

Currently, The compliance issue is a farce. Many nations export more swordfish and tuna than their national quota and in a few cases several times their national quota. These plans were poorly written. Over-quota landings in the past did not reduce next year's national quota. Over the last 4 years the rules have been toughened. The new 10-year rebuilding plan may cause major changes in the swordfish fishery. New ICCAT rules often hurt those who complied and allow those who ignored the rules more time to avoid complying. In many nations avoiding national regulations is the national past time. Why would anyone expect ICCAT to success without strict international compliance? Strict US unilateral rules can never provide stock recoveries when the rest of the world does not comply! Please, demand that our ICCAT commissioners get full compliance from the other fishing nations before any more new rules are imposed on any US fisherman.

A new position by the US commercial fleet is to count all landings against quota but ignore the minimum size since there is no compliance by the other ICCAT members.

Keep in mind that the minimum size rule was created to limit landings before a fish was sexually mature. The rules goal was to allow a fish to spawn at least once before being landed. The swordfish minimum size is 33 pounds dressed weight ONLY 1/3 of a sexually mature size. The ineffectiveness of even 33 pounds minimum was confirmed by a new US study that reported 80?f all small swordfish discarded commercially were dead when discarded. Discarding dead swordfish provides no stock recovery.

In general, past ICCAT rules had little success in reducing the commercial fishing effort on Highly Migratory Species, even in the US commercial fleet. When one sales route was blocked another was used to keep the HMS fish selling on the world fish market.

Will this year's ICCAT deliberations reduce the current ocean-wide HMS overfishing?

Don't bet your hard-earned money on any real reduction in commercial fishing effort!

This is as unlikely at ICCAT as the Eagles winning two football games in a row!

Compliance will always be achieved at some future time after the HMS stocks have collapsed and commercial fishing is no longer a viable economic way to make a living!

The economic cost of such choices will be felt first by the recreational fleet and last by the commercial fleet. Once again history repeats itself as the fishery plan sharply reduces recreational rod and reel participation causing great economic harm while making a vain and wasted effort to support an unsustainable dying commercial fishery.

Domestically, the proposed new closed longline fishing zones shift much of the swordfish and HMS fishing effort away from spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast coast to the northeast fishing grounds. Is such a major shift in effort wise?

Despite the negative tone of this article slow progress is being made. The problem is it takes far too long to work. Fishing's great. Enjoy tight lines till next month.

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