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Highly Migratory Species Report

By John Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 2000 Newsletter)


NMFS New Closed area proposal

In our area NMFS will hold hearings on their time and area closure proposal in Atlantic City on Wednesday February 2, 1999 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. The hearings will be held at Atlantic Community College 1535 Bacharack Boulevard, room 204, Atlantic City, NJ 08401 Call 609-343-4800 for directions. More reasons we support NMFS proposal were explained in Gary Caputi's article in last months newspaper. You can find that article at our web page or email Tom Fote for a copy at <>

NMFS proposes to close 99,810 sq. miles in the South Atlantic permanently and 96,560 sq. miles in the Gulf of Mexico seasonally from March 1 to September 30. On December 15, 1999 NMFS published in the Federal Registry a proposal to close the entire US Southern Atlantic exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from Key West Florida to the North Carolina/ South Carolina border to HMS Pelagic Longline fishing. NMFS proposed to seasonally close the Texas and Louisiana EEZ for 6 months a year from March 1 until September 30 of each year. This proposal applies to HMS pelagic longline fishers only " shark & tile fishers are not included". The 6-page federal registry notice covered many other issues raised by the closure, including mammal and turtle interaction. This Federal Registry notice was only received on request. A 2-page recap was sent to all HMS system participants but it did not explain fully many issues discussed by the registry notice.

The Federal Registry notice explained that the Magnuson-Steven law mandates NMFS to reduce bycatch and discard. NMFS's proposal contains no hard bycatch reduction goals. Without stated goals there is nothing to measure actual accomplishments of the closed areas in the future. NMFS did include estimates of the bycatch reduction for the closed areas, if the longliners did not fish. However, NMFS believed a major shift in fishing effort to open areas would actually increase bycatch and discards of several fish and increase actual marine mammal and turtle interaction.

Comment: All fishery management plans that work have hard number goals and objectives with specified timeframes. Hard numbers specifying the bycatch and discard goals that must be met must be stated in writing if this proposal is expected to work.


NMFS HMS longline closure proposals were expected by May 1999 as part of the HMS final rule. At that time, NMFS stated that too much work was involved to finish their HMS longline closure proposal by May 1999. They said they would finish the longline time/area closure proposal at a later time. On June 10-11,1999 NMFS met with the HMS and Billfish Advisory Panel and "discussed their new analyses related to a larger closed area than originally proposed in the HMS FMP proposal". Their closure proposal is the result of these efforts and discussions.

The NMFS closure proposal by December 15 is the result of a court ordered stay of a lawsuit. NCMC filed a lawsuit supported by two other environmental studies on the bycatch and discard reductions mandated by Magnuson. NMFS stayed this lawsuit by agreeing to a court order which required that NMFS longline bycatch and discard reduction proposals (NMFS chose time/area closures to accomplish these reductions) be completed by December 15 and a final rule be published by May 2000").

Their suit required NMFS by a date certain to:

  1. To evaluate adequately the practicability of conservation and management measures that could minimize HMS bycatch.
  2. To require practicable conservation and management measures that minimize highly migratory species bycatch.
  3. To establish an adequate bycatch reporting methodology.
  4. To set forth conservation and management measures to rebuild the blue and white marlin fisheries.


In 1990 Swordfish, an over-fished species, was due to come under new rules written by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Four councils supported and passed a 78% reduction in swordfish landings by longliners. To avoid a 78% landing reduction, the US longliners and the US ICCAT commissioners convinced ICCAT to take on Swordfish management ocean-wide. Swordfish & Shark management was taken from the councils and reassigned to NMFS's HMS.

The 1996 Magnuson-Stevens law toughened all bycatch and discard rules. These new rules will have a major impact on HMS longline fishers. The longliners created and supported a Senate and House legislative proposal to voluntary buyout of some longline boats. However, these legislative proposals also included sections that restricted NMFS future longline management. The legislative proposals appear to shift future longline management rulemaking from NMFS to the Senate and House! Two sections in the Senate bill propose this change:

  1. Sections 11
  2. This section assigns the continuation of the Gulf of Mexico closed zone to Congress, Not NMFS. The ACT creates a new scientific workshop committee to monitor and report to Congress, not NMFS. This appears to shift the future area regulation of longliners from NMFS to Congress!

  3. Section 12

This section eliminates any additional longline time and area closures for the next 4 years.

This is an important issue. Who is managing the longline fishery? Is it NMFS or Congress?


NMFS Position: The Federal register closure notice reports-"NMFS has determined that further action to reduce bycatch mortality (MMPA & ESA) is needed. While this proposed rule is not intended to directly address bycatch mortality of protected species, NMFS has carefully analyzed the alternatives to ensure that the impacts on protected species would be minimized."


NMFS asks for comments on seven items in the closure proposal

1- NMFS requests comments specifically on how the boundaries and size of the closed area could be modified to mitigate the impacts on turtles as well as billfish.

2- NMFS specifically requests public comment on whether the size and boundaries of the various closed areas will accomplish the bycatch reduction goals.

3-NMF seeks comments on how to mitigate those economic impacts on longliners including the need for a vessel buyout program.

4-NMFS requests comments on the economic impacts of these proposed measures on vessels that do not currently hold tuna or swordfish limited-access permits and may otherwise have targeted dolphin and wahoo in the proposed closed areas (without a federal permit).

5-NMFS solicits comment from permit holders on the need for and consequences of future attachment to the HMS permit of a provision that NMFS rules would apply regardless of where the permit holder fished. (All shark commercial permit holders include this provision)

6-NMFS is specifically soliciting public comment and scientific information on modifications of the closed period specifically for the Gulf of Mexico and on minimizing, to the extent possible, adverse impacts on fishing revenues and costs.

7-NMFS asks how to define pelagic HMS longliners as separate from shark and tile longliners

Comment: The groups supporting a legislative solution knew that NMFS was under a court order to finish the area closure proposal by December 15. They knew what NMFS intended from the June 1999 AP meeting. Why CCA and TBF would then blast NMFS closure proposal in their press releases is hard to understand!! Their statements that NMFS was complicating their better solution by issuing a court mandated regulatory solution by December 15 raises serious questions. Included are their motives, intent and what the longliners offered these recreational groups to get their support for a legislative solution. The Senate bill also proposes a major shift in longline management from NMFS to Congress, which should have been unacceptable to these groups.

As bad as some believe NMFS management is, Congressional management is inconceivable.

The Federal Registry notice states that shifts in longline fishing effort and may increase turtle and mammal interaction. NMFS estimates that a major shift in fishing effort to a different area may well increase the bycatch and discards of several species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act requires NMFS to institute major reductions in mammal and endangered species interaction by the longline fishery. The proposed South Atlantic closed area has the lowest area mammal and turtle interaction. Compliance with Magnuson-Stevens bycatch rules plus the Marine Mammal protection Act and the Endangered Species Act appears to require NMFS to propose addition time/area closures to comply with these laws. Does shifting longline management to the Senate and House from NMFS bypass all the rules they created? These proposals did generate a large amount of additional paperwork. A whole host of reports and studies were required by law to support the proposed closures. Required documents included Regulatory Impact Reviews and Environmental Impact Studies, plus Small Business affects. Each of these reports concerns the economic impacts of the proposed regulations on longliners.

These studies report many longline fishermen's boats are not capable of fishing outside of the US 200 Nautical Mile EEZ in their 40 to 50 foot boats mostly fished in the SE Atlantic. Under Magnuson NMFS could slip and slide the issue of high longline bycatch and discards fishing for many years. This would allow the longline fishery to continue. These multi-year bycatch reduction studies are part of the proposed rules in the remaining closed areas. They also propose to impose a fee on any recreational boat fishing the closed areas.

These proposals will have a major impact on both commercial and recreational fishermen.

The MMPA is a much tougher law than the Magnuson Act is. It mandates ALL interaction stops if endangered species are killed. NMFS, in a previous ruling, found the amount of interaction that was self-reported did not affect the species survival based on the number being killed.



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