Feds Plan to Further Drain Pacific of Bluefin

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service plans to continue to allow U.S. commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean, for 2015 and 2016.
     The agency says its proposal is in line with an October resolution of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, and will set fishing limits that are reduced by 20 to 45 percent from previous years.
     Comments on the proposed rule and supporting documents must be submitted in writing by April 8, 2015. A public hearing will be held March 26, 2015.
     Based on the results of a 2012 stock assessment by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, July 9, 2013, the NMFS determined Pacific bluefin tuna was not only experiencing overfishing, but was also overfished.
     The October IATTC resolution reaffirms “. . . that it is necessary to adopt . . . measures to reduce the fishing mortality of Pacific bluefin tuna . . . to contribute to the rebuilding of the stock.”
     Most Pacific bluefin caught are between the ages of 0 to three-years old, according to a 2014 stock assessment by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species. Sexual maturity begins at 3-5 years.
     The assessment also shows there is a large cohort of adult fish reaching the end of their lives, leaving a large gap in spawning.
     Substantial reductions in juvenile catch should be considered, to reduce the risk of the number of tuna able to spawn falling below its historically lowest level, according to the assessment.
     The NMFS proposed rule includes catch and trip limits by weight, but does not address the age or minimum weight of individual tuna.
     The resolution establishes a catch limit for both years combined of 600 mt and not to exceed 425 mt in a single year. Additionally, if U.S. commercial Pacific bluefin tuna catch in the Convention Area exceeds 300 mt in 2015, then the 2016 U.S. catch limit may not exceed 200 mt, which could result in a total combined catch for both years that is less than 600 mt.
     This proposed rule also would establish annual and trip catch limits. A trip limit is proposed to be defined as the total allowable amount of a species by weight of fish that may be retained on board, transshipped, or landed during a single fishing trip by a vessel that harvests tuna or tuna-like species.
     In 2015, an annual catch limit for the entire U.S. fleet of 425 mt with an initial trip limit of 20 mt per vessel would be imposed. When NMFS anticipates that total catch for the fleet has reached 375 mt, NMFS will announce that a 2 mt trip limit for each vessel will be in effect until the total catch for the year reaches 425 mt.
     In 2016, the annual catch limit will be announced in a Federal Register notice and calculated to correspond with the limits established in the resolution (i.e., not to exceed 425 mt in a year and if catch exceeds 300 mt in 2015, then catch will be limited to 200 mt in 2016). The 2016 annual catch limit will be calculated as the remainder from 2015 (i.e., how much of 425 mt was not caught) added to 175 mt, with exceptions.The fishery in 2016 also will be subject to an initial 20 mt trip limit until catch is within 50 mt of the 2016 annual catch limit, after which a 2 mt trip limit will be imposed.

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