ABTA: Show your opposition to NMFS 2011 Bluefin Tuna Quota Specification

ABTA: Show your opposition to NMFS 2011 Bluefin Tuna Quota Specification

The American Bluefin Tuna Association (ABTA) offers the following "bullet" points for your consideration for comments to NMFS at the March and April public hearings and to assist anyone desiring to submit an oral or written comment by the April 21 deadline.  Details on how and where to comment can be found at the end of this document.  The ABTA is vehemently opposed to the NMFS proposed action to subtract 160 metric tons "off the top" of the total U.S. Total Allowable Catch to cover bluefin "dead discards" by the U.S. Swordfish Pelagic Longline Fleet (PLL).

1.       The NMFS proposal to subtract the 160 mt from the U.S. TAC would result in an unprecedented, economically damaging, lowest ever starting quotas for the directed traditional bluefin General, Harpoon, Purse Seine and Angling Categories. These categories did not cause these discards yet the Agency proposes to hold them responsible for the discards caused solely by the PLL fleet.

2.       In the recent past, NMFS has used U.S. underages by the above innocent categories to cover the PLL discards with grossly disproportionate extra allocations to the PLL fleet.  In 2011 this past practice is not possible due to NMFS failure to monitor and control PLL discards on a real time basis and keep the PLL fleet landings and discards within their 8.1% share of the U.S TAC.

3.       Further, a NMFS led change in the international bluefin plan reducing the allowed rollover of unused quota from 50% of the annual base quota to only 10% of the countries base quota also limits available quota. Finally, concerted NMFS action to abandon the successful 1998 rebuilding plan and insistence of an even lower western Atlantic to be shared by the U.S., Japan, Canada and Mexico exacerbates this quota scarcity and now major conflict.

4.       There is little doubt that these low quotas will negatively impact innocent bluefin catch categories (sectors), at a minimum, by causing lost fish catch revenue, reduced bag limits and shortened seasons within commercial and recreational fisheries. Coastal businesses dependent on sales and services (tackle, bait, marinas, etc.) to support the bluefin fishery will suffer deep economic losses as well.  Fishing jobs and fishery related jobs will be needlessly lost due to continuing PLL bluefin discards.

5.       NOAA and NMFS Officials controlling agency international and domestic objectives, policies and management measures failed to coordinate and anticipate the needless damage now being caused US fisheries as a result of uncontrolled and unmonitored dead discards by the PLL fleet. The very fact that NMFS is forced to use an "estimate" of the 2009 discard level as a "proxy" for the upcoming season is undeniable evidence that the Agency was aware of its complete lack of real time monitoring of dead discards.

6.       NOAA has acted irresponsibly and in a hypocritical fashion by demanding Mediterranean fishing nations in particular to spend billions of dollars developing management and control infrastructure to regulate and account for bluefin catches transferred to farms for fattening or to be transferred directly for domestic and international sales while ignoring a glaring loophole in domestic US management capabilities to monitor and limit PLL dead discards to their 8.1% share.

7.       NOAA/NMFS has ignored longstanding mandates within the Magnuson Act and other laws to limit bycatch and reduce discards.  National Standards 1, 4 and 9 have been and are again being violated by the NMFS proposal to increase the PLL share to at least 28% of the U.S. TAC through the 2011 specification process.  The very act of increasing the PLL TAC share through the Annual Quota Specification process violates a commitment and universally accepted agreement in 1999 with implementation of the Atlantic Tunas HMS FMP that the traditional allocation shares would only be changed by an FMP Amendment taking nearly 2 years due to required and appropriate biological, economic and social impacts of such a radical shift and increase to the PLL fleet.  Such an action and shift in allocation share is not supported by the formally adopted FMP objectives modified and voted on by the NMFS HMS AP and many other groups promised a role in the management and objectives of this fishery.

8.       An accepted precept of catch sectors or sector shares requires that each sector is responsible for staying within its allocated quota share.  This proposal would make other recreational and commercial sectors "pay the price" for one sectors repeated violation while NMFS apparently "looked the other way" in favor of an attempt to revitalize this fleet sector at the expense of all other users.  No groups, beyond BWFA, at any time in the past requested or even suggested this was an equitable solution to the indiscriminate nature of the fishing gear or to support increased utilization of the indiscriminate gear and dead discards.

9.       The proposed bluefin specifications and radical altering of traditional shares will greatly undermine NOAA credibility and sincerity to utilize catch shares as "one tool" to solve overfishing issues.  It is difficult to conceive of an acceptable definition of Optimum Yield for a continuing management plan that requires over 28% of the TAC to be wasted by dropping the valuable and magnificent fish and fish product dead to the ocean bottom.

10.   NMFS has the regulatory authority to require that each category "pay back" catch overages and, as necessary and if available, make in-season transfers to this category to allow continued fishing provided other users are not denied a "reasonable opportunity" to catch their share.  We are unaware of any U.S. national FMP plan that requires one groups excess catch and discards to be shared and/or paid back by other groups not in violation of their quota or sector share.

11.   The NMFS proposal would not only absolve PLL gear from their damaging discard waste of the resource but given NMFS lack of real time monitoring, the process could be repeated over and over.  Attempting to impose a "bycatch cap" would also be futile given the lack of monitoring capability.  With increasing bluefin availability occurring now, dramatic reductions in eastern TACS and with known mixing factors and rates, NMFS should expect immediate and potentially dramatic PLL interactions and discards of bluefin in the very near future.  The Specifications rule offers not one single possible solution or mitigating factor for the long term or short term.

12.   NMFS needs to reject this rule and develop available alternative solutions with the advice and assistance from the Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel.  Further, NMFS must acknowledge this U.S. PLL transgression at the next ICCAT Compliance Committee and have available an realistic plan to correct the situation for the long term.

You may submit comments (identified by "0648-BA65") through April 28, 2011, by using anyone of the following methods:

Submit electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov
Fax: 978-281-9340, Attn: Sarah McLaughlin
Mail: Sarah McLaughlin, Highly Migratory Species'Management Division, NMFS, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930 '.
To be considered, electronic comments must be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Porta~ http://www.regulations.gov. Do not submit electronic comments to individual NMFS staff.