The U.S. is putting new rules on commercial fishing of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Western Atlantic known to be breeding grounds. Giant bluefin tuna over 81 inches long will be protected under a new 750 page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration amendment in an effort to rebuild the population.
“NOAA Fisheries deserves great praise for significantly increasing protections for bluefin while allowing fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue,” said Lee Crockett, director of U.S. ocean conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “This historic action will help western Atlantic bluefin tuna rebuild to healthy levels.”
The amendment deals directly with surface longlines. The longlines average 30 miles long and use hundreds of baited hooks left unattended for 18 hours at a time. As a result, countless marine species get caught and die including bluefin tuna, hammerhead sharks, and leatherback sea turtles. It’s a sad practice that wastes 445,338 pounds of bluefin tuna, more than before a U.S. ban on targeting the massive species went into effect in 1982.
These new guidelines seek to change all that by restricting the use of surface longline fishing in certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Cape Hatteras. It also establishes a new annual limit on incidental catch and says that the use of longlines must be monitored 100 percent of the time.
According to NOAA:
Under these proposed measures, fishermen will have a strong incentive to avoid catching bluefin tuna incidentally when pursuing swordfish and other Atlantic tunas, since bluefin tuna catch (landings and dead discards) are proposed to be counted against individual longline vessels. Reaching the bluefin quota could result in prohibition of further longline fishing.
Western bluefin tuna weigh upwards of 550 pounds and can reach more than 6 feet in length. They are also particularly valuable on the commercial market which makes them subject to unreported and illegal fishing. But NOAA has yet to list them as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
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Image: Dennis Tang