NOAA Fisheries announces the release of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, which includes an analysis of the potential short- and long-term impacts of the proposed action to authorize fishing with deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) in federal waters off the U.S. West Coast, on the human (biological, physical, social, and economic) environment. In 2019, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (hereafter, the Council) recommended that NMFS authorize DSBG to fish in federal waters south of the Oregon-Washington border based on data from DSBG trials under exempted fishing permits (EFPs) from 2015 through 2018. In its Draft EIS, NMFS also includes data from DSBG EFP trials conducted in 2019 and 2020 to project potential impacts of the proposed action.
The Council first solicited EFP applications with the objective of testing gear types or methods that could serve as an alternative to using drift gillnet (DGN) gear to catch swordfish in the EEZ, or to test different approaches to contemporary DGN fishing practices. DGN and harpoon are the only two gear types currently authorized under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP) to target swordfish in federal waters; of the two, DGN has contributed the majority of the landings to the West Coast. Since 1985, U.S. West Coast swordfish catch has dramatically declined. Despite a healthy swordfish stock available off the West Coast, West Coast ports have become increasing reliant on imports from foreign fisheries and catch from distant-water fleets, which impact many of the same highly migratory protected species populations regulations in federal waters are designed to address.
Without authorizing other lawful, economically viable gear types, the U.S. West Coast swordfish fishery is unlikely to operate at optimum yield—a management objective described in National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Therefore, the Council and NOAA Fisheries are interested in authorizing gear types that offer hope for improving the economic viability of the West Coast swordfish fishery and at the same time minimize potential bycatch and interactions with protected species.
The notice of availability invites interested parties to provide comments on the Draft EIS (comment period closes October 4, 2021). Written public comments can be submitted by following instructions on the cover page. For more information on the development of the proposed action, factors considered in the analysis, and next steps, see:
- Draft EIS for Proposed Amendment 6 to the Fishery Management Plan for West Coast Highly Migratory Species Fisheries: Authorization of Deep-set Buoy Gear (pdf)
- Webstory: Draft Analysis of New West Coast Swordfish Fleet Weighs Benefits of Increased Domestic Catch
- Question and Answers for Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Authorization of Deep-Set Buoy Gear