Monitoring Area Reconsideration Process Conclusion
The Joint Explanatory Statement 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. NOAA Fisheries held two public sessions and invited the public to submit any information that was not previously considered during the GRA-Weak Hook rulemaking process. NMFS received six public responses and reviewed this information. None of the information received warranted a change in the agency decision reflected in the April 2020 final rule. Thus, NMFS completed the reconsideration process in 2021, and the Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area will be open to pelagic longline fishing in 2022.
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, 2022 and June 1 - June 30, 2022, respectively, consistent with criteria in the April 2, 2020 final rule on Pelagic Longline Bluefin Tuna Area-Based and Weak Hook Management Measures (the GRA-Weak Hook Rule). This will be year three 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 and 2021 Monitoring Area Recap
The Spring Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area was open and monitored from April 2 - May 30, 2020 and April 1 - May 30, 2021. No bluefin tuna were caught in the area during either period.
The Northeastern United States Monitoring Area was open and monitored from June 1 - June 30, 2020 and June 1 – June 30, 2021. No bluefin tuna were caught in the area in 2020. In 2021, 16,606 pounds of bluefin tuna were landed and 1,045 pounds of bluefin tuna were discarded as a result of fishing in the Northeastern United States Monitoring Area. This was below the threshold of 150,519 established in the GRA-Weak Hook final rule.
Bluefin tuna catch data from the monitoring areas for 2022 will be made available on the GRA-Weak Hook Rule webpage.
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 are 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.