On April 2, 2020, NOAA Fisheries published a final rule in the Federal Register (85 FR 18812) that adjusted regulatory measures put in place to reduce incidental catch of bluefin tuna in the pelagic longline fishery for Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS). Specifically, the final measures converted the Spring Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area to a Monitoring Area and established a three-year (2020-2022) evaluation period. This period was intended to evaluate whether gear restrictions in this area during the months of April and May were still needed in tandem with other measures to appropriately manage incidental catch of bluefin tuna in the pelagic longline fishery. During the evaluation period, the area remains open to pelagic longline fishing provided the amount of Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) allocation used to account for bluefin catch (landings and dead discards) stays below a specified threshold for the area. The threshold for the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area is 63,150 pounds for each year of the evaluation period. If the threshold is reached, the area closes. After the three-year evaluation period, NOAA Fisheries will review data collected from the Monitoring Area, including information from vessel monitoring system (VMS) vessel track and set report data, IBQ System data, electronic monitoring data, and other data streams; compile a report; and may take any further action if needed.
Since April 2, 2020, no pelagic longline sets have occurred within the boundaries of the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area. NOAA Fisheries continues to monitor any fishing activity and bycatch occurring in the area during the monitoring period. Details on bluefin tuna catch data are available and updated periodically on the webpage for information related to the Gear Restricted Area-Weak Hook final rule.
The Congressional Joint Explanatory Statement (JES) that accompanied the 2021 Appropriations Act included text on “Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna” directing NOAA Fisheries to reconsider the decision in the Gear Restricted Area-Weak Hook final rule to open the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area to pelagic longline fishing or to take additional monitoring action. The plan for the reconsideration of the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area is available on the webpage for information related to the Gear Restricted Area-Weak Hook final rule. The plan provides the public an opportunity to submit information that was not considered in the Gear Restricted Area-Weak Hook final rule. NOAA Fisheries will assess information received and the agency’s conclusions will be communicated via appropriate mechanisms.
Submit Comments by July 15, 2021:
The public can submit comments and information on this subject, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2018-0035, by electronic submission. Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to the regulations site and enter “NOAA-NMFS-2018-0035” in the Search box. Click on the “Comment” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the close of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries. All comments received are a part of the public record and generally will be posted for public viewing on the regulations site without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NOAA Fisheries will accept anonymous comments (enter "N/A" in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).
Two public conference calls and webinars will be held, on June 23, 2021, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and on June 30, 2021, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Registration information for the webinars will be posted to the webpage for information related to the GRA-Weak Hook final rule. At the beginning of the public webinar, the moderator will explain how the webinar will be conducted and how and when attendees can provide comments.
For further information on this reconsideration process or for requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids, contact Craig Cockrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-427-8503.