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Regulations to Authorize Deep-set Buoy Gear under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP)

Overview

Description
Proposed Rule & Amendment 6 to Plan
Fishing Type
Commercial
Affected Species
Action Status
Proposed Rule
Published
Comments on proposed rule close March 8, 2023; comments on amendment 6 close March 10, 2023
Comments Close
03/08/2023
Point of Contact
Amber Rhodes, NMFS, (202) 936- 6162, Amber.Rhodes@noaa.gov, or Rachael Wadsworth, NMFS, (206) 526-6152, Rachael.Wadsworth@noaa.gov

Summary

NOAA Fisheries is requesting comments on a proposed amendment to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS) (88 FR 1171 , January 9, 2023, and see below) that, if approved, would authorize deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) as an additional gear type for catching swordfish and other HMS in federal waters off of California and Oregon. NOAA Fisheries is also requesting comments on proposed regulations to implement the amendment to the FMP (88 FR 7661, February 6, 2023). NOAA Fisheries invites the public to comment on the draft amendment through March 10, 2023, and on the implementing regulations through March 8, 2023.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended that NOAA Fisheries authorize this DSBG as an additional commercial gear type to improve the economic viability of the West Coast-based swordfish fishery while minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable. Currently, drift gillnet is the primary authorized gear type for targeting swordfish off the West Coast. Small amounts of swordfish are also landed using harpoon and hook-and-line gear. The majority of domestic swordfish landings to the West Coast come from the Hawaii-based longline fishery, which operates outside of federal waters off the West Coast. Deep-set buoy gear has been explored as an alternative way of fishing for swordfish in waters off the U.S. West Coast since 2011 through a series of research trials and exempted fishing permits (EFPs) issued on a case-by-case basis. The gear type catches fish in deep water using a long vertical line attached to surface buoys. Fishing in deep water helps reduce interactions between the gear and non-target species.

The proposed amendment and implementing regulations would establish a limited entry regime for “phased-in” permitting of DSBG fishing within Federal waters of the SCB and an open access regime in Federal waters outside of the SCB. The Council first recommended authorizing DSBG in September of 2019. Then, in March of 2021, the Council revised the tiered criteria by which applicants could qualify for limited entry permits. In August of 2021, NOAA Fisheries published a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act and accepted public comments (86 FR 46847, August 20, 2021). Since, NOAA Fisheries has worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop procedures to qualify applicants according to the tiered criteria. The proposed regulations also specify restrictions on the configuration and operation of the gear, monitoring requirements, and procedures for obtaining permits. In December of 2022, the Council deemed the proposed regulations consistent with their 2021 recommendation.

NOAA Fisheries will take public comments into account in determining whether to issue a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and record of decision, approve the proposed amendment from the Council, and issue a final rule. NOAA Fisheries will respond to comments received on the DEIS if and when an FEIS is issued. If and when a final rule is effective, any existing EFPs being used to fish DSBG will become invalid. This could create a gap in DSBG fishing for up to a year while NOAA Fisheries executes an application process for limited entry DSBG permits, including qualifying and ranking applications according to the tiered criteria recommended by the Council. To bridge the potential gap, NOAA Fisheries is considering re-issuing the EFPs as exempted from the new regulations. Any re-issued EFPs would expire upon issuance of the first batch of limited entry permits.

Bulletins

Proposed Regulations to Implement Proposed Amendment 6 to the Fishery Management Plan for West Coast Highly Migratory Species Fisheries to Authorize Deep-set Buoy Gear

NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comment on proposed regulations to implement deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) as an additional gear type for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS).
February 06, 2023 -

NOAA Fisheries announces availability of a Proposed Fishery Management Plan Amendment and Rule to authorize Deep-Set Buoy Gear, and seeks public comment

Public comments invited on proposed amendment to authorize deep-set buoy gear for catching swordfish in federal waters off of California and Oregon
January 09, 2023 -

Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on 02/06/2023

Fishing Gear