What is Happening?
The Spring Gulf of Mexico and Northeastern United States Monitoring Areas for bluefin tuna will continue to be open to fishing with pelagic longline gear from April 1-May 30, 2021 and June 1-June 30, 2021, respectively, consistent with criteria in the April 2, 2020 final rule on Bluefin Tuna Pelagic Longline Area-Based and Weak Hook Management Measures (the GRA-Weak Hook Rule). This will be year two of a three-year evaluation of these areas to determine if they are still necessary in addition to the Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) Program to limit incidental catch of bluefin tuna during pelagic longline fishery operations.
2020 Monitoring Area Recap
The Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area was open and monitored from April 2 - May 30, 2020. No bluefin tuna were caught in the area during that time.
The Northeastern United States Monitoring Area was open and monitored from June 1 - June 30, 2020. No bluefin tuna were caught in the area during that time.
Current Actions Involving the Monitoring Areas
The 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 GRA-Weak Hook Rule to open the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area to pelagic longline fishing or to take additional monitoring action. There has not been enough time since the passage of the 2021 Appropriations Act for us to reconsider the decision to open the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area by April 1, 2021 or to modify existing regulations regarding the area or new monitoring provisions; however, we intend to conduct a process for reconsideration prior to April 1, 2022. The actual approach to and timing for reconsideration has yet to be determined. No matter the approach, we intend to provide an opportunity for public input.
Current Evaluation of the Monitoring Areas
The GRA-Weak Hook Rule (April 2, 2020 final rule) established a three-year evaluation period (April 2, 2020 to December 31, 2022) that was intended to determine whether gear restrictions in these areas were still needed in tandem with other measures that manage incidental catch of bluefin tuna in the pelagic longline fishery. During the evaluation period, the areas initially remain open to pelagic longline fishing provided the amount of Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) allocation used to account for bluefin catch (landings and dead discards) in these areas stays below a specified threshold. For the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area, the annual threshold is 63,150 pounds. For the Northeastern United States Monitoring Area, the annual threshold is 150,519 pounds. If the threshold is reached, the relevant area will close.
Following the three-year evaluation period, NOAA Fisheries will review data collected from the Monitoring Areas, 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.
Questions about the Monitoring Areas?
Please contact NOAA Fisheries at 301-427-8503 for more information.