NOAA Fisheries announces a final rule to modify the Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) regulations. It requires vessels in the pelagic longline fishery to account for bycatch of bluefin tuna using Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) on a quarterly basis instead of by trip. Previously, vessel owners had to account for quota debt or IBQ balances less than the minimum required before beginning any fishing trip with pelagic longline gear.
Specifically—effective January 27, 2018—this final rule modifies the regulations to allow vessels to fish with a low IBQ balance or with quota debt during a calendar quarter (January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1). Vessels must still coordinate with dealers to report bluefin tuna catch at the end of each trip (and account for it with IBQ). This change provides the flexibility to fish even if the vessel has less than the minimum amount of IBQ, including quota debt, until the first fishing trip in each calendar quarter.
For example, after a vessel’s first fishing trip in the first calendar year quarter, a vessel operator may fish with pelagic longline gear with less than the minimum IBQ allocation (or quota debt), but only within the first calendar year quarter. In order to depart on a pelagic longline fishing trip in the following quarter, that vessel would need to lease additional IBQ to resolve the quota debt and acquire the minimum amount of IBQ required to fish.