July 1, 2013
NOAA considering new regulations for
bluefin tuna quotas and share allocation
By CATHERINE KOZAK
an international panel is studying revisions of stock quotas of bluefin
tuna, the federal agency that divvies up the U.S. share will consider
new regulations that address allocation share along the East Coast, a
long-standing bone of contention between New England and Southeast
A draft amendment to the Highly Migratory
Species Management Plan will include a discussion of quota management
in the general category, said Brad McHale, fisheries management
specialist for NOAA Fisheries Service.
“I think that’s where a lot of conversation will take place,” he said.
said that the proposal, Amendment 7, is focused primarily on bluefin
tuna, a species whose management has not been updated since 2006.
International Commission for the Conservation of Tunas, the regulatory
body that sets the total allowable catch for bluefin tuna, met June
26-28 in Montreal to review stock assessments for the fish.
McHale said the new international assessment is not scheduled to be
released until 2015. Whatever allocation ICCAT sets is
distributed by the National Marine Fisheries Service among domestic
bluefin tuna fisheries.
On June 18, the agency announced the
final quota for 2013 that adjusted the annual U.S. baseline assigned by
ICCAT to account for under harvest of the adjusted 2012 quota. The
longline category was also closed for the remainder of year.
Outer Banks watermen, the issue is not so much the amount of quota
allocated by ICCAT than the way it is allocated by the Fisheries
Service, said Charley Pereira, the president of the Southeastern
Bluefin Tuna Association.
Pereira, formerly with the Winter
Bluefin Tuna Association, said that North Carolina and other Southern
coastal states are given just 10.4 percent of the Western Atlantic
bluefin tuna catch.
“Our primary goal is to get more of a
percentage of it,” he said. “We had zero dedicated bluefin quota south
of New York until the early 2000s. They’re in our waters about 30 to 40
percent of the time, yet we only get a little more than 10 percent.”
typically arrive off the North Carolina coast after Thanksgiving, with
the best fishing in late January into February. But until Marine
Fisheries in 2011 allocated a reserve quota for December and January,
most of the quota would be gone by the time the fish reached the
Pereira said that the problem is that
the quota in the winter season, which was extended to March 31, is
fished in a matter of weeks. He said he believes that in the interest
of fairness, bluefin tuna should be managed as a 12-month fishery,
which would even out the distribution the northern fishermen are
“They always get more than we do, no matter what it is,” he said.
of bluefin tuna are managed separately between the Eastern Atlantic,
the Mediterranean, and the Western Atlantic. The Western Atlantic
bluefin spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and migrate up the East Coast to
For reasons that are not fully understood, since 2004
U.S. fishermen have been hooking tons less of the Western Atlantic
stock than the amount allocated by ICCAT, although some biologists has
hypothesized that it was related to overfishing in the Eastern and
Management of bluefin populations
remains a contentious issue in the international scientific community,
which disagrees on baselines for stock assessment and even the extent
of population depletion.
Until Stanford University started a
tag-and-release program off Hatteras in 1996, little was known about
the giant fish, which can weigh up to 1,800 pounds. Since then,
scientists have learned that the bluefin is an amazing swimmer that can
cross great distances, complicating the management of the population
categories because of their ability to mingle.
Although it has
been popular for fishermen to snap a shot of them holding the tuna,
Pereira said that it is against the law to remove a catch-and-release
bluefin tuna from the water, even to just take a photograph.
for bluefin off Hatteras and further south is not what is was in the
late 1990s and early 2000s, when fishermen caught thousands of fish
weighing in excess of 300 pounds and worth as much as $40,000. After a
lull, fishing for the lucrative giants has bounced back in recent
years. Pereira said that fish weighing about 800 pounds have been
caught off boats out of Oregon Inlet.
Ideally, a fisherman
should hold a charter captain’s license that permits fishing both
recreational and commercial quota, Pereira said.
“Quota means tons of fish,” he said. “Permit means what tons of fish you’re allowed to fish for.”
than 80 percent of the world market for bluefin is sold in Japan, where
a 489-pound tuna sold in January for a record-breaking $1.76 million –
about $3,600 a pound.
Although the fish is one of the more
valuable available to American fishermen, such inflated prices are
dismissed as marketing ploys.
On a more local level, NOAA
Fisheries is looking to the draft amendment to address bluefin issues
including overfishing, the need to rebuild the stock, and the difficult
challenge of dead discards in the longline fishery.
catch of bluefin in pelagic longline fishing has become an increasing
issue. The amount of dead discards of bluefin tuna in 2012 – which
became available in May was about 93 metric tons more than had been
estimated, based on a proxy number from the amount of 2011 dead
McHale said that the longline vessels must account
for the discards, but fishermen using hand gear like rod and reel are
not required to report what they don’t keep. Some remedies, such as
requiring logbooks on certain vessels or at certain times of the year,
have been considered, as well as increased monitoring or improvements
in longline gear, but McHale said that input from fishermen is crucial
to determine the best solution and fishing practices.
we are looking to do from a conceptual point of view is increase
individual accountability,” he said. “Some have shown they can avoid
bluefin and some do not.”
Other issues that will be covered in
the amendment, according to a NOAA Fisheries announcement last month,
will be revisiting quota allocations; additions and modifications of
time/area closures or gear restrictions; and improvements in reporting
The draft amendment, which will include an
Environmental Impact Statement and preferred alternatives, is expected
to be published by late July or early August. McHale said that it will
be followed by a 60- to 90-day comment period. A public meeting will
also be held, most likely in Manteo. The amendment is expected to be
implemented in 2014.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information on a draft amendment to the NOAA Fisheries Service Highly Migratory Species Management Plan, go to