Characterization of the Shark and Reef Fish Bottom Longline Fisheries: 2012
Simon J.B. Gulak, Michael P. Enzenauer, John K. Carlson
Observations of the shark-directed bottom longline fishery in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico have been conducted since 1994 (e.g. Hale et al. 2012 and references herein). Currently about 217 U.S. fishers are permitted to target sharks (excluding dogfish) in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and an additional 263 fishers are permitted to land sharks incidentally. Amendments to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan implemented a shark research fishery, which allows NMFS to select a limited number of commercial shark vessels on an annual basis to collect life history data and catch data for future stock assessments (NMFS, 2007).
Specifically, only commercial shark fishers participating in the research fishery are allowed to land sandbar sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, and must carry an observer on 100% of all trips (compared to a target coverage level of 4-6% outside the research fishery). Outside the research fishery, fishers are permitted to land 36 non-sandbar large coastal sharks per trip (including blacktip shark, Carcharhinus limbatus, bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformis, spinner shark, Carcharhinus brevipinna, tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran, scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini, and smooth hammerhead shark, Sphyrna zygaena).
The commercial reef fish fishery is an important fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. It involves 819 permitted vessels that target groupers, snappers, and other reef fish species. There is also a subset of approximately 100 vessels that hold an eastern Gulf reef fish bottom longline endorsement, allowing them to use bottom longline gear deeper than 35 fathoms (64 meters) in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Of these permitted vessels, 2 approximately 6% have both reef fish and directed shark permits. Thus, overlap occurs among longline vessels in both shark directed and reef fish fisheries, necessitating observer coverage in both fisheries. Herein, we report on fishing activities in the bottom longline fishery for the 2012 fishing season, including coverage of the 2012 Shark Research Fishery.