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NOAA Fisheries announces availability of a Proposed Fishery Management Plan Amendment and Rule to authorize Deep-Set Buoy Gear, and seeks public comment

January 09, 2023

Public comments invited on proposed amendment to authorize deep-set buoy gear for catching swordfish in federal waters off of California and Oregon

NOAA Fisheries invites public comment through March 10, 2023, on a proposed amendment to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS) to authorize deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) as an additional gear type for catching swordfish and other HMS in federal waters off of California and Oregon. NOAA Fisheries is taking this action under the authority of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and consistently with the recommendations of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council).

The proposed action is intended to improve the economic viability of the West Coast swordfish fishery, while minimizing bycatch and protected species interactions. The proposed amendment would establish a limited entry permit system for fishing DSBG within Federal waters of the Southern California Bight (SCB) and an open access permit system for fishing the gear in Federal waters outside of the SCB. Under the MSA, NOAA Fisheries must make a decision on whether to approve the proposed FMP amendment by April 9, 2023.

NOAA Fisheries plans to publish proposed regulations for implementing the amendment soon and will invite the public to comment on them. 

Notably, the President just signed into law a bill to phase out the use of drift gillnets in federal waters and transition the drift gillnet fishery to alternative gear types within five years. Currently, drift gillnet and harpoon are the only two commercial gear types authorized under the FMP to target swordfish in federal waters off the U.S. West Coast. The proposed action would authorize DSBG as a potential alternative commercial gear type under the FMP. While the Council has been recommending issuance of exempted fishing permits to explore other alternative gear types in the fishery, the Council has not recommended that the drift gillnet fishery be phased-out or transitioned to alternative gear types at this time. Therefore, the proposed action to authorize DSBG is more limited in scope and the supporting analyses prepared prior to the passage of this legislation do not consider the direct or indirect effects of a federal transition program or phase out of the use of drift gillnet gear in federal waters off the U.S. West Coast. Nonetheless, NOAA Fisheries does address, in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (published in August 2021), the potential for cumulative impacts of this action and the federal legislation.  

Congress has asked NOAA Fisheries to consult with the Council on a strategy to phase out the use of large mesh drift gillnets and permit the use of alternative fishing methods to increase the economic viability of the West Coast-based swordfish fishery while minimizing bycatch to the maximum extent possible. The next Council meeting is scheduled for March of 2023. NOAA Fisheries will seek to discuss the matter with the Council then.