No, bluefin also are plagued by another long-standing problem: They are inevitably caught by long-line fishermen trying to hook bigger, healthier schools of yellowfin tuna, swordfish and big-eye tuna. Under government regulations, the fishermen are allowed to bring a small number of the carefully regulated and valuable fish to shore for sale, but most of them die on hooks hanging from 20-mile fishing lines and are discarded at sea.
Now, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. government agency that regulates offshore fishing, has waded into the controversy. It is proposing a complicated new plan designed to reduce the number of bluefin that long-liners inadvertently snare. The fish has been intensively managed for more than two decades, officials said, but the regulations need updating, in part to help reduce bycatch.
Under the proposal, the NMFS would sharply cut back the number of bluefin tuna that individual fishing vessels are allowed to capture accidentally, setting a quota for each boat and requiring fishermen to include the bluefin they discard at sea under that cap. The NMFS also would change the long-standing formula by which it calculates the number of pounds of bluefin tuna that a long-liner may legally bring to shore for sale.
Any vessel that exceeds its cap for accidentally caught bluefin wouldn’t be able to leave the dock to fish for other species, according to the proposal. Cameras and human observers on board the fishing boats would monitor compliance.
The idea, said Margo Schulze-Haughen, chief of the NMFS’s highly migratory species management division, is to provide an economic disincentive to hook bluefin tuna.
We “give them the amount of bluefin per year,” she said. “Then they have to manage it.
“Fishermen that are either unable or unwilling to avoid bluefin, I think they will have some difficulty,” Schulze-
Haughen said. “But our analysis shows that three-quarters of the fleet will get an allocation that will enable them to continue fishing as they have.”
Beideman said her group is still working on its response to the proposed rules, which are open for public comment until Dec. 10. But she said she knows this: If the fleet that puts the vast majority of yellowfin tuna and swordfish on American plates is to survive, it needs greater bluefin quotas than the NMFS is proposing. Since bluefin swim with yellowfin, catching them is sometimes unavoidable, she and others have said, despite fishermen’s best efforts.
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