January 6, 2014 – The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has officially weighed in with the federal government on a plan which would hand over recreational quota of bluefin tuna to commercial longliners to make up for that sector’s large percentage of dead bluefin bycatch.

Now, RFA is asking for your comments to be heard to beat back this federal effort to destroy the U.S. rod and reel bluefin fishery!

The federal comment period for this Amendment 7 has been extended until January 10th, and angler feedback at this time is much-needed. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0101, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

According to RFA, U.S. Gulf and Atlantic longliners have incurred substantial incidental bycatch of bluefin tuna over the past few decades, ranging from young juveniles to giants.  Longliners are actually targeting swordfish or yellowfin, but they also catch more than 80 different bycatch species, including bluefin, which has resulted in hundreds of tons of bluefin bycatch each year for the past three decades or more.  The vast majority of bluefin bycatch by longliners comes from fishing grounds off of the Mid Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Several years ago the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) accommodated longliners by granting them an allocation of 8.1% of the U.S. bluefin quota, allowing that sector to retain and sell bluefin bycatch. However, in the year in which it was implemented and for every year since then, this 8.1% allocation has proven to be terribly inadequate as longliners kill more and more bluefin tuna every season.

“Bluefin bycatch in the longline fishery has become uncontrollable and NMFS has taken very few steps to reduce the bycatch,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, adding “the longstanding regulations require that bluefin caught by longliners in excess of the 8.1% allocation must be discarded, most often dead, which then are allowed to sink to the bottom of the ocean.”

As a typical example, RFA said longliners were allowed to keep and sell a maximum of 89 metric tons of bluefin last year, but they exceeded the adjusted quota by 218%, resulting in the discard of an estimated 239 metric tons of bluefin, or in other words, approximately 25% of the total U.S. quota.

“This wasteful practice should be addressed, first and foremost, by putting regulations in place intended to rigorously restrict this excessive and uncontrolled incidental bycatch by the U.S. longline industry,” Donofrio said.  “NMFS certainly shouldn’t be rewarding longliners for these actions, but that’s what they’re proposing.”

A recent recommendation by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) would require the U.S. and all other Atlantic bluefin fishing countries to account for all forms of bluefin mortality, including bycatch and discards, within each country’s quota allocation.  In order to comply with this requirement, NMFS has drafted a proposal called Amendment 7.  RFA said the centerpiece of NMFS’ Amendment 7 proposal would convert all longline bluefin discards to legal landings by making it illegal for longliners to discard bluefin over 73 inches in length.  With dockside prices for bluefin ranging from $7 to $12 per pound, NMFS bias toward the longline fleet at the expense of the recreational community is obvious and troubling.

Shockingly, NMFS’ preferred alternative for achieving this through Amendment 7 would actually strip quota from all other user categories such as the harpoon, general and angling categories – categories that fish sustainably – and apply it to the longline category.

“NMFS is proposing a massive reallocation of bluefin tuna to the longliners, which presents a clear and unambiguous threat to all the traditional U.S. handgear bluefin fisheries and an open attack on the recreational sector,” Donofrio said.  “RFA has already sent comments in to the federal government in opposition of this attempted takeover of bluefin tuna by the longline sector, but we need anglers and recreational fishing industry leaders to get engaged in this effort as well.”

RFA is urging anglers to respond directly to NMFS – the federal government has asked for public comment on Amendment 7, and RFA is hoping our angling community will give it to them. Feel free to copy and paste any or all of the following bullets to support RFA’s position in opposition to the NMFS’ proposal to hand over recreational quota to longliners!

The deadline to submit comments on proposed Amendment 7 has been extended for a second time and will not close until January 10, 2014.  You can submit comments by going directly to the regulations.gov site via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0101, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Below are bullet points from the RFA position regarding Amendment 7 submitted to NMFS composed into a sample letter that can be submitted as comments to the administrative record.

With regard to Amendment 7 to the Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, as a saltwater angler I am in favor of:

– Strictly maintaining the longline allocation for bluefin at 8.1% of the total US quota.

– Establishing a time-area closure in the Gulf of Mexico that closes this important area to ongline fishing when bluefin tuna are present.

– Increasing the size and number of time-area closures in the Atlantic, preventing longliners from fishing in areas where they incur bycatch of bluefin.

– Establishing an annual bluefin bycatch “cap” for every single longliner in the US Gulf and Atlantic, the total of which not to exceed their 8.1% allocation.

– Eliminating the incentive for longliners to incur bluefin bycatch by removing the potential to profit from the sale of any bluefin discards that have been converted to landings under Amendment 7.

– Establishing 100%, industry-funded observer or electronic coverage of every longline vessel in the US Gulf and Atlantic to ensure compliance.

– Effectively address the issue of “latent permits” in the longline fishery by eliminating the ability to re-activate these permits.

– Effectively addressing the ongoing requirement of discarding all juvenile bluefin caught in the longline fishery, a problem that would continue under proposed Amendment 7.

I oppose any attempt to give any of the recreational and commercial handgear quota to the longliners.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Amendment 7.