NOAA Fisheries transfers 14.3 metric tons (mt) of Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) quota from the 24.3-mt General category December 2018 subquota period to the January 2018 subquota period, and maintains the default Atlantic tunas General category BFT daily retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73” or greater) per vessel per day/trip for the January 2018 subquota period. Although it is called the “January” subquota, the regulations allow the General category fishery under this quota to continue until the subquota is reached or March 31, whichever comes first.
Quota Transfer: The transfer of 14.3 mt of General category quota allocated for the December 2018 period to the January 2018 period results in a subquota of 39 mt for the January 2018 period and a December 2018 period subquota of 10 mt. NOAA Fisheries will close the General category fishery when the adjusted January period subquota of 39 mt has been reached, or it will close automatically on March 31, 2018, whichever comes first, and it will remain closed until the General category fishery reopens on June 1, 2018.
Although the 2017 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management would result in an increase to the baseline U.S. BFT quota (i.e., from 1,058.79 mt to 1,247.86 mt) and subquotas for 2018 (including an expected increase in General category quota from 466.7 mt to 555.7 mt, consistent with the quota regulations), domestic implementation of that recommendation will take place in a separate rulemaking, which is expected to be finalized in mid-2018. NOAA Fisheries also anticipates that some underharvest of the 2017 adjusted U.S. BFT quota will be carried forward to 2018 and placed in the Reserve category, in accordance with the regulations. These upcoming actions, in addition to the fact that any unused General category quota will roll forward to the next subperiod within the calendar year and NOAA Fisheries’ plan to actively manage the subquotas to avoid any exceedances, makes it likely that General category quota will remain available through the end of 2018 for December fishery participants, even with the transfer.
NOAA Fisheries also may choose to transfer unused quota from the Reserve or other categories, inseason, based on consideration of the determination criteria, as NOAA Fisheries did for late 2017 (i.e., transferred 156.4 mt from the Reserve category effective October 1 and another 25.6 mt from the Harpoon category, effective December 1. In 2017, NOAA Fisheries closed the General category fishery several times to prevent further overharvest of the adjusted General category quota, specifically August 16 for the June through August subquota period; September 17 for the September subquota period; October 4 for the October through November subquota period; and December 6 for the December subquota period. General category landings were relatively high in late 2017, due to a combination of fish availability, favorable fishing conditions, and higher daily retention limits earlier in the season.
NOAA Fisheries anticipates that General category participants in all areas and time periods will have opportunities to harvest the General category quota in 2018, through active inseason management such as retention limit adjustments and/or the timing of quota transfers, as practicable. Thus, this quota transfer would allow fishermen to take advantage of the availability of fish on the fishing grounds, consider the expected increases in available 2018 quota later in the year, and provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the full U.S. BFT quota.
Daily Retention Limit for the January 2018 Subquota Period: At this time, NOAA Fisheries is maintaining the default daily retention limit for the January 2018 General category fishery of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches curved fork length or greater) per vessel per day/trip. Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon landing. For example (and specific to the limit that will apply beginning January 1, 2018), whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the day/trip limit of one fish applies and may not be exceeded upon landing. The daily retention limit is effective for all areas except for the Gulf of Mexico, which is designated as BFT spawning grounds and where NOAA Fisheries does not allow targeted fishing for BFT.
Who is affected?
This action applies to General category permitted vessels and to HMS Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels with a commercial sale endorsement when fishing commercially for BFT. For information regarding the CHB commercial sale endorsement, see 82 FR 57543, December 6, 2017. For more information on BFT fishing regulations, including recreational size and retention limits, please go to the HMS Permits Shop.
NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor the BFT fisheries closely. Dealers are required to submit landing reports within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT.
General category and HMS Charter/Headboat category vessel owners are required to report the catch of all BFT retained or discarded dead, within 24 hours of the landing(s) or end of each trip, by accessing the HMS Permits Shop or by using the HMS Catch Reporting App.
Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates, NOAA Fisheries may determine that additional action (i.e., quota and/or daily retention limit adjustment, or closure) is necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.
NOAA Fisheries regulations at 50 CFR 635.21(a)(1) require that all BFT that are released be handled in a manner that will maximize survivability, and without removing the fish from the water. For additional information on safe handling, see the Careful Catch and Release brochure.
This notice is a courtesy to BFT fishery permit holders to help keep you informed about the fishery. For additional information, call (978) 281-9260, or go to the HMS Permits Shop. Official notice of federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.