NOAA Fisheries announces a final rule to modify the Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) regulations to require vessels in the pelagic longline fishery to account for bycatch of bluefin tuna using Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) on a quarterly basis instead of on a trip level. Previously, vessel owners had to account for quota debt, or IBQ balances less than the minimum required, before commencing any fishing trip with pelagic longline gear.
Specifically, effective as of 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 (beginning 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), but this regulatory 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, as of January 27, 2018, subsequent to 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 with quota debt), but only within the first calendar year quarter. In order to depart on a pelagic longline fishing trip in the following quarter, starting April 1, 2018, that vessel would need to lease additional IBQ to resolve the quota debt and acquire the minimum amount of IBQ required to fish.
This regulatory change will maintain vessel accountability for all bluefin tuna catch and the associated incentives for vessel operators to minimize catch of bluefin tuna. By changing the timing of the accountability, this final rule provides some additional flexibility in vessel operations to determine when and at what price vessel owners lease additional quota and resolve quota debt. The timing of the accounting for bluefin tuna by pelagic longline vessels within a particular fishing/calendar year affects the financial and timing dynamics of a vessel’s fishing operation, but does not modify the annual U.S. bluefin tuna quota, nor the fishing mortality associated with that quota. The annual U.S. bluefin tuna quota and subquota allocations to the Longline category would not be affected by this final rule.
This notice is a courtesy to fishery participants to help keep you informed about the fishery. Official notice of federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register. For further information, contact Thomas Warren at (978) 281-9260 or Carrie Soltanoff at (301) 427-8503.