Request for Comments: Proposed Modifications to Sea Turtle Release Gear for the Reef Fish Fishery

October 04, 2018

FB18-056 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For More Information, Contact: Susan Gerhart, 727-524-5305, Susan.Gerhart@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

NOAA Fisheries requests your comments on Reef Fish Amendment 49, which if implemented, would modify sea turtle release gear for the Reef Fish Fishery in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf).  Comments are due by December 3, 2018.

 

SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHANGES:

  • Add three newly approved sea turtle release devices to the federal regulations that can be used to fulfill current gear requirements, providing more options for fishermen.
  • Update the regulations to simplify and clarify the specifications for other release devices. 
  • Streamline the procedure to implement newly approved devices and handling procedures in the future. 

 

HOW TO COMMENT ON THE NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY AND PROPOSED RULE:

The comment period is open now through December 3, 2018.  The comment period on the proposed rule is expected to fall within this same time, and comments on both the amendment and proposed rule will be considered in the final rule.  You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail.  Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries. 

 

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: FR 2018-21635, published October 4, 2018

 

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

1. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0087   

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

3. Enter or attach your comments.

 

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


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
 

Why are new sea turtle release devices being added to federal regulations?

  • Vessels with commercial or for-hire federal reef fish permits are required to have gear on board to allow for safe release of incidentally caught sea turtles.
  • The Southeast Fisheries Science Center regularly tests and approves new sea turtle release devices that meet the requirements. 
  • However, the devices must be added to regulations before they can be used by federal permit holders to satisfy the regulatory requirements. 
  • The proposed changes would provide additional flexibility to meet the requirements for participants in the commercial sector and for-hire component of the reef fish fishery.  

 

What are the sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish release protocol requirements for the Gulf reef fish fishery?

  • Vessels with commercial and/or for-hire federal reef fish permits are required to have the proper sea turtle release gear in accordance with their vessel freeboard height.
  • Vessels also must possess onboard a written copy of the most recent version of the document entitled “Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury” (Protocol), and the Placard for sea turtle handling and release guidelines.
    • The Protocol must be onboard and available for reference inside the wheelhouse, or within a waterproof case if the vessel has no wheelhouse.
    • The Placard must be posted at all times inside the wheelhouse, or within an easily viewable area if the vessel has no wheelhouse.
    • This proposed rule would allow an electronic copy of the Protocol to be onboard for reference.

 

What release gear are currently required for federally permitted vessels in the Gulf reef fish fishery?

  • A federally permitted vessel with a freeboard height equal to four feet or less must have on board a:
    • Dip net (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Dedicated cushioned support device*
    • Short handled dehooker for internal hooks
    • Short-handled dehooker for external hooks
    • Long-nose or needle-nose pliers
    • Bolt cutter
    • Monofilament line cutter
    • At least two types of mouth openers/mouth gags
       
  • A federally permitted vessel with a freeboard height of greater than four feet must have on board a:
    • Long-handled line cutter (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Long-handled dehooker for internal hooks (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Long-handled device to pull an “inverted V” (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Dipnet (handle must be 6 feet or 150% of freeboard height, whichever is greater)
    • Dedicated cushioned support device*
    • Short-handled dehooker for internal hooks
    • Short-handled dehooker for external hooks
    • Long-nose or needle-nose pliers
    • Bolt cutter
    • Monofilament line cutter
    • At least two types of mouth openers/mouth gags

 

*A cushioned support device is an auto tire or any other comparable, cushioned, elevated surface that allows boated sea turtles to be immobilized as specified in 50 CFR Part 622 Appendix FAlternatives to tires include dedicated life rings, seat cushions, life jackets, and life vests; which must be in addition to those required for safety.

 

What are the new sea turtle release devices being proposed or clarified?

  • A sea turtle hoist or a collapsible hoop net would be approved as alternatives to the dip net.
  • An additional short-handled dehooker with a squeeze handle would be approved for external hooks.
  • Grades of stainless steel for other short-handled and long-handled dehookers for internal and external device construction would be clarified to be 316L and 304L stainless steel.
  • The requirement for end coverings for canine mouth gags would be removed.
  • The minimum blade length for monofilament line cutters would be clarified to be a minimum of 1 inch.
  • The required length for the long-nose, needle-nose pliers would be clarified to be a minimum of 11 inches. 
  • Other specifications for devices would be similarly clarified.

 

How do I measure the freeboard to tell if it is greater or less than four feet?

  • Freeboard is defined as the working distance between the top rail of the gunwale to the water's surface, and will vary based on the vessel design.

 

Where can I find more information on Reef Fish Amendment 49?

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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on November 13, 2018