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Request for Comments: Changes to catch levels, sector allocations, accountability measures, and management measures for Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery in the Atlantic

December 23, 2021

FB21-092: South Atlantic Fishery Bulletin; For more information, contact: Nikhil Mehta, 727-824-5305, nikhil.mehta@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

NOAA Fisheries requests your comments on the notice of availability and proposed rule for Amendment 10 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery of the Atlantic (Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 10).  If implemented, Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 10 and the proposed rule would revise acceptable biological catch estimates, annual catch limits, sector allocations, accountability measures, and management measures for dolphin and wahoo. 

 

The management measures would address:

  • commercial trip limits,
  • authorized fishing gear,
  • the operator permit (card) requirement for dolphin and wahoo,
  • and the recreational vessel limit for dolphin. 

 

The goals and objectives of the Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery Management Plan would also be revised in response to the 2016 Fisheries Allocation Review Policy to reflect the current dolphin and wahoo fishery.  Comments are due by February 22, 2022.

 

SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHANGES:

  • The proposed changes would apply to the dolphin and wahoo fishery in federal waters of from Maine, south to the Florida Keys in the Atlantic.

 

Dolphin

Catch levels (pounds [lbs] whole weight [ww])

 

Current

Proposed

Total Annual Catch Limit

(= Acceptable Biological Catch)

15,344,846 lbs ww

24,570,764 lbs ww

Sector allocations (percent [%] of total annual catch limit)

 

Current

Proposed

Commercial

10%

7%

Recreational

90%

93%

Sector annual catch limits (pounds [lbs] whole weight [ww])

 

Current

Proposed

Commercial

1,534,485 lbs ww

1,719,953 lbs ww

Recreational

13,810,361 lbs ww

22,850,811 lbs ww

Recreational Vessel Limits**(excluding Headboats)

 

Current

Proposed

 

60 per vessel

54 per vessel

**The 10 dolphin per person per day recreational bag limit would remain unchanged for all recreational vessels (private, charter vessels, and headboats).

 

Wahoo

Catch levels (pounds [lbs] whole weight [ww])

 

Current

Proposed

Total Annual Catch Limit

(= Acceptable Biological Catch)

1,794,960 lbs ww

2,885,303 lbs ww

Sector allocations (percent [%] of total annual catch limit)

 

Current

Proposed

Commercial

3.93%

2.45%

Recreational

96.07%

97.55%

Sector annual catch limits (pounds [lbs] whole weight [ww])

 

Current

Proposed

Commercial

70,542 lbs ww

70,690 lbs ww

Recreational

1,724,418 lbs ww

2,814,613 lbs ww

 

 

Recreational Accountability Measures:

Post-season recreational accountability measure would be triggered in the following fishing year if:

Dolphin

  • The total annual catch limit is exceeded.

Wahoo

  • The recreational annual catch limits are constant and the 3-year geometric mean of landings exceeds the recreational annual catch limit.

 

Recreational post-season accountability measure for both dolphin and wahoo after the trigger:

  • Reduction in the length of the following recreational fishing season by the amount necessary to prevent the recreational annual catch limit from being exceeded in the following year.

 

Commercial trip limits:

  • Currently, a person in the exclusive economic zone may only have certain authorized gear onboard when they are in possession of dolphin and wahoo.
  • Trap, pot, and buoy gear are not authorized gear.
  • Some fishermen want to harvest dolphin while in the possession of lobster pots. 
  • This proposed rule would allow for a new category of commercial trip limits for dolphin and wahoo based on a proposed authorized gear exemption for trap, pot, and buoy gear, and the trip limit would be 500 pounds (lbs) gutted weight of dolphin and 500 lbs of wahoo.
  • There currently is an incidental commercial trip limit of 200 lbs of dolphin and wahoo, combined weight, for vessels that do not have a dolphin wahoo commercial permit but do have another federal commercial permit and catch the species north of the 39 degrees north latitude.  This trip limit would not be able to be combined with the proposed commercial trip limit with proposed authorized gear allowance.

 

Operator cards:

  • The current requirements for operator cards and permitted operators for both the dolphin and wahoo commercial and charter vessel/headboat permitted vessels would be removed.

 

Goals and Objectives:

  • The revised goals and objectives seek to manage the dolphin and wahoo fishery using a precautionary approach that maintains access, minimizes competition, preserves the social and economic importance of the fishery, as well as promotes research and incorporation of ecosystem considerations where practicable.

 

HOW TO COMMENT ON NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY AND PROPOSED RULE:

The comment period for the notice of availability is open now through February 22, 2022.  The comment period on the proposed rule is expected to fall within this same time frame, and comments on both the amendment and proposed rule will be considered in the final rule.  You may submit comments by electronic submission (described below) or by postal mail.  Comments received after the end of the comment period may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

 

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: 86 FR 72911, published December 23, 2021

 

Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

1. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2021-0093.

2. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields.

3. Enter or attach your comments.

 

Mail: Submit written comments to Nikhil Mehta, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

 

Where can I find more information on Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 10?

Nikhil Mehta

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

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

 

Why are increases to the catch limits for dolphin and wahoo being considered?

 

  • In April 2020, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Statistical and Scientific Committee recommended new acceptable biological catch levels for dolphin and wahoo using the third highest annual commercial and recreational landings value during 1994-2007.
  • The proposed total annual catch levels are set equal to the proposed acceptable biological catch levels.

 

How will the increase in catch limits affect dolphin and wahoo populations?

 

  • The increase in catch limits is not expected to adversely affect dolphin and wahoo populations.
  • The dolphin population is not considered overfished or undergoing overfishing; and the population status of wahoo is unknown.
  • Both dolphin and wahoo are highly migratory, exhibit fast growth, and are highly productive.

 

Why are changes to the commercial and recreational allocations for dolphin and wahoo being considered?

 

  • The commercial and recreational allocations are based on commercial and recreational historical landings.
  • Estimates of recreational landings have changed to incorporate Marine Recreational Information Program’s Fishing Effort Survey method, which has replaced the Marine Recreational Information Program’s Coastal Household Telephone Survey. 
  • When determining allocations, the Council wanted to recognize the needs of the recreational sector for dolphin and wahoo, which would exhibit higher landings than previously estimated with the new accounting of recreational landings using Marine Recreational Information Program’s Fishing Effort Survey method.
  • At the same time, the Council did not want to reduce the commercial annual catch limits on a pound basis for dolphin and wahoo and noted that the proposed allocations and sector annual catch limits would strike a balance between the needs of both sectors.

 

Why are changes to the recreational accountability measures for dolphin and wahoo being considered?

 

  • The current recreational accountability measures are post-season and based on population status.
  • The post-season accountability measures are not viable because they cannot be triggered as there is not a peer-reviewed population assessment for dolphin and wahoo, and therefore, there is no likely method to determine their population status.
  • The revised recreational accountability measures trigger would help ensure sustainable harvest by preventing the total annual catch limit from being exceeded on a consistent basis.

 

Why are gear authorization and commercial trip limits being considered?

 

  • Currently, a person in the exclusive economic zone may only have certain authorized gear onboard when they are in possession of dolphin and wahoo.
  • Trap, pot, and buoy gear are not authorized gear.
  • Some fishermen want to harvest dolphin while in the possession of lobster pots. 
  • This proposed rule would allow for a new category of commercial trip limits for dolphin and wahoo based on a proposed authorized gear exemption for trap, pot, and buoy gear, and the trip limit would be 500 pounds gutted weight, of dolphin and 500 pounds of wahoo.
  • There currently is an incidental commercial trip limit of 200 pounds of dolphin and wahoo, combined weight, for vessels that do not have a dolphin wahoo commercial permit but do have another federal commercial permit and catch the fish north of the 39 degrees north latitude.  This trip limit would not be able to be combined with the proposed commercial trip limit with proposed authorized gear allowance.
  • The current dolphin commercial trip limit of 4,000 pounds once 75% of the commercial annual catch limit is reached would not change.

 

Why is the requirement for operator permit (card) being considered for removal?

 

  • The operator permit requirement was implemented in 2004, through the original fishery management plan for dolphin and wahoo, as a way to assist in law enforcement efforts within the fishery by holding the vessel operator accountable for any violation of regulations and to aid in data collection.
  • Since then, the operator permits are not actually used by law enforcement for gathering data, distributing information, or enforcement to a large extent.  Other methods of fishery enforcement, such as vessel permits and landings have been used by law enforcement within the fishery
  • The Council determined that the limited use that operator permits in the dolphin and wahoo fishery did not outweigh the cost to fishermen to obtain the permit, and removing this requirement would yield positive social, economic, and administrative benefits.

 

Why is a decrease to recreational vessel limit for dolphin being considered?

 

  • Interest in recreational harvest of dolphin has increased over the years.  Also, public testimony, especially from fishermen in Florida, recommended a decrease in the recreational retention limits to further control recreational harvest.
  • The Council determined a coast-wide reduction in the vessel limit was appropriate to maintain consistency of regulations across the region in the retention limits for dolphin and noted that such a change in retention limits would lead to more substantial harvest reductions than a Florida-specific or regional approach.

 

Why is a decrease to the recreational bag or vessel limit for wahoo not being considered?

 

  • The Council considered reducing the recreational bag limit for wahoo from the current 2-fish per person to 1-fish per person, but removed this action from the amendment because data analysis showed only a 2.9% reduction in recreational landings.

Public input was received against moving to a 1-fish per person bag limit due to the low estimated reduction in landings.


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Other contacts:

Media: Kim Amendola, 727-551-5707

            Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750 

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on December 23, 2021