NOAA Fisheries has received two Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) applications to test new fishing gear in federal waters off the U.S. West Coast that may serve as an alternative to drift gillnet gear targeting swordfish and other highly migratory species off of the West Coast. NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comments on Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) recommendations on those applications (87 FR 1401, January 11, 2022).
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) first solicited EFP applications with the objective of testing gear types or methods that could serve as an alternative to using drift gillnet gear to catch swordfish in Federal waters off the U.S. West Coast, or to test different approaches to contemporary drift gillnet fishing practices. Drift gillnet and harpoon are the only two gear types currently authorized under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP) to target swordfish in Federal waters; of the two, drift gillnet has contributed the majority of the landings to the West Coast. Since 1985, U.S. West Coast swordfish catch has dramatically declined. Despite a healthy swordfish stock available off the West Coast, West Coast ports have become increasing reliant on imports from foreign fisheries and catch from distant-water fleets, which impact many of the same highly migratory protected species populations regulations in federal waters are designed to address.
Without other economically viable gear types, the U.S. West Coast swordfish fishery is unlikely to operate at optimum yield—a management objective described in National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Although the Council made a recent recommendation to authorize deep-set buoy gear for targeting swordfish in federal waters south of the Oregon/Washington border, it has continued to schedule review of EFP applications proposing new or alternative gear types to target swordfish and other marketable highly migratory species. In this instance, the EFP applicants are drift gillnet fishermen interested in recovering access to productive swordfish areas with use of a gear type more suitable for the rough wind and sea conditions in Federal waters outside of the Southern California Bight (where 99 percent of deep-set buoy gear fishing has occurred to-date). The Council has recommended that NOAA Fisheries approve the EFPs for the vessels indicated in the applications to fish with the new gear (labeled “midwater snap gear”) contingent on a streamlined suite of gear specifications and mitigation measures.
NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comment to identify potential issues or concerns with the EFP applications, the Council recommendations, or both. We will consider this input and the Council recommendations in determining a proposed action for federal review. After NOAA Fisheries determines a proposed action in consideration of the EFP applications received, Council recommendations, and public input on those, it will prepare additional documentation pursuant to federal requirements, e.g., Magnuson Stevens Act, National Environmental Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, etc. NOAA Fisheries anticipates more opportunity for public input prior to making a final decision on whether to issue EFPs to fish midwater snap gear.
For information on how to comment, see the Federal Register notice.
For more information on EFPs, visit our West Coast Region web page on Highly Migratory Species and EFPs.