NOAA Fisheries Announces New Modifications to Sea Turtle Release Gear for the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery

May 17, 2019

FB19-027 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For more information, Contact: Kelli O'Donnell, 727-824-5305, Kelli.Odonnell@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

NOAA Fisheries announces new modifications to sea turtle release gear for the reef fish fishery in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). These modifications include three newly approved sea turtle release devices, and clarification to regulations to specify exactly which release gear is required and approved for use, including dimensions where appropriate.

 

WHEN RULE WILL TAKE EFFECT:

  • Regulations will be effective June 17, 2019

 

SUMMARY OF CHANGES:

  • A collapsible hoop net and small turtle hoist are approved as alternatives to the dip net requirement.
  • A new squeeze handle dehooker is approved to fulfill the requirement for a short-handled dehooker for external hooks.
  • The use of 316L and 304L grade stainless steel for internal and external device construction are approved for other short-handled and long-handled dehookers.
  • There is no longer a requirement for the end coverings on canine mouth gags.
  • The minimum blade length for the monofilament line cutters is 1 inch with a minimum total length of 6 inches.
  • The minimum total length for the long-nose, needle-nose pliers is 11 inches. 
  • The minimum blade length for the bolt cutters is 4 inches with a minimum total length of 14 inches.
  • The specific length for the hank of rope, used as a mouth opener/gag, has been removed.
  • The block of hard wood, used as a mouth opener/gag, dimensions must be a minimum of 10 inch x ¾ inch x ¾ inch. 
  • The requirement for a sea turtle cushion or support device was updated to specify a dedicated cushion for the turtle must be on board, which cannot be also used as a personal flotation device.
  • An electronic version of the document entitled “Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury” kept on an electronic device is now allowed on board a vessel instead of a written copy.

 

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: FR 84 FR 22383, published May 17, 2019.

 

This bulletin serves as a Small Entity Compliance Guide, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. 


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

 

Why are new sea turtle release devices being added to federal regulations?

  • Vessels with commercial or for-hire federal reef fish permits are required to have gear on board to allow for safe release of incidentally caught sea turtles.
  • The Southeast Fisheries Science Center regularly tests and approves new sea turtle release devices that meet the requirements.  However, the devices must be added to regulations before they can be used by federal permit holders to satisfy the regulatory requirements. 
  • These changes listed in the final rule provide additional flexibility to meet the requirements for participants in the commercial sector and for-hire component of the reef fish fishery.  

 

Are these new gear and gear clarifications valid for South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper permit holders?

 

What are the sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish release protocol requirements for the Gulf reef fish fishery?

  • Vessels with commercial and/or for-hire federal reef fish permits are required to have the proper sea turtle release gear in accordance with their vessel freeboard height.
  • Vessels also must possess onboard a copy of the most recent version of the document entitled “Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury” (Protocol), and the Placard for sea turtle handling and release guidelines.
    • The Protocol must be onboard and available for reference inside the wheelhouse, or within a waterproof case if the vessel has no wheelhouse.
    • The Placard must be posted at all times inside the wheelhouse, or within an easily viewable area if the vessel has no wheelhouse.

 

How do I measure the freeboard to tell if it is greater or less than four feet?

  • Freeboard is defined as the working distance between the top rail of the gunwale to the water's surface, and will vary based on the vessel design.

 

What release gear are currently required for federally permitted vessels in the Gulf reef fish fishery?

  • A federally permitted vessel with a freeboard height equal to four feet or less must have on board a:
    • Dip net (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
      • A collapsible hoop net or small turtle hoist can be used in place of the dip net
    • Dedicated cushioned support device*
    • Short handled dehooker for internal hooks
    • Short-handled dehooker for external hooks
    • Long-nose or needle-nose pliers
    • Bolt cutter
    • Monofilament line cutter
    • At least two types of mouth openers/mouth gags
  • A federally permitted vessel with a freeboard height of greater than four feet must have on board a:
    • Long-handled line cutter (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Long-handled dehooker for internal hooks (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Long-handled device to pull an “inverted V” (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Dipnet (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
      • A collapsible hoop net or small turtle hoist can be used in place of the dip net
    • Dedicated cushioned support device*
    • Short-handled dehooker for internal hooks
    • Short-handled dehooker for external hooks
    • Long-nose or needle-nose pliers
    • Bolt cutter
    • Monofilament line cutter
    • At least two types of mouth openers/mouth gags

*A cushioned support device is an auto tire or any other comparable, cushioned, elevated surface that allows boated sea turtles to be immobilized as specified in 50 CFR Part 622 Appendix FAlternatives to tires include dedicated life rings, seat cushions, life jackets, and life vests; which must be in addition to those required for safety.

 

Where can I find more information on Reef Fish Amendment 49?

By Mail: Kelli O’Donnell

NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office

Sustainable Fisheries Division

263 13th Avenue South

St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505

By FAX: (727) 824-5308

By Phone: (727) 824-5305


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