NOAA Fisheries transfers 10 metric tons (mt) of Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) quota from the Reserve category to the General category for the January subquota period and closes the General category fishery until it reopens June 1, 2018. 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 10 mt of the 24.8-mt Reserve category quota to the General category quota for the January 2018 fishery results in an adjusted subquota of 49 mt for the January fishery and 14.8 mt in the Reserve category.
Although the 2017 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (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 for such adjustments. 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 to the extent consistent with the available amount transferrable quota and other management objectives, while avoiding quota exceedance.
Closure of the BFT General Category January Fishery: Based on the best available BFT General category landings information (i.e., 31.3 mt landed as of February 26, 2018) as well as average catch rates and anticipated fishing conditions, NOAA Fisheries projects that the General category January subquota of 49 mt, as adjusted in this action, will be reached by March 2, 2018, and that the fishery should be closed to avoid exceedance of the enhanced quota. The General category BFT fishery will close effective 11:30 p.m., March 2, 2018, until it reopens on June 1, 2018, with a quota of 233.3 mt available for the June through August time period.
Retaining, possessing, or landing large medium or giant BFT by persons aboard vessels permitted in the Atlantic tunas General and HMS Charter/Headboat categories must cease at 11:30 p.m. local time on March 2, 2018, through May 31, 2018. The intent of this closure is to prevent any further overharvest of the available General category January BFT subquota.
Who is affected?
This action applies to General category (commercial) 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 Permit 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 Permit 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 Permit Shop. Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.