WASHINGTON - Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized new regulations aimed at bringing back healthy populations of the iconic western Atlantic bluefin tuna population. Currently, Atlantic bluefin tuna are caught as bycatch by longline fishermen targeting swordfish all along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, and populations have plummeted more than 80 percent in recent decades due to overfishing and bycatch. In fact, without meaningful management and hard limits on the amount of bluefin bycatch allowed, the Atlantic longline fishery threw away more than 100 metric tons of bluefin tuna in the last five years as a result. Oceana commends NMFS for taking necessary action to protect and rebuild this vulnerable and historic fish population.
As part of the Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, the federal government will close certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico and areas off the coast of North Carolina during spring to protect spawning bluefin from longlines. The government is also implementing a strict limit on bluefin bycatch to reduce waste. Once fishermen reach their individual quota on bluefin bycatch, they will either have to stop fishing or obtain additional quota from another fisherman. NMFS will also require video cameras to be installed aboard longline fishing vessels, which will improve data collection that currently relies solely on outside observer coverage.
Oceana’s Northeast Representative Gib Brogan released the following statement in response to the rule today:
“Oceana is pleased that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted on our recommendations for this fishery. This finalized rule is truly an innovative and much-needed approach to managing bluefin tuna bycatch in the swordfish longline fishery. Bluefin bycatch has been an ongoing issue for years, and has mostly been monitored through assumptions and guesswork. These new regulations will finally put hard limits on U.S. bluefin catch in the longline fishery and ensure accountability and consistency.
Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the most iconic apex predators in the ocean and is a crucial species for maintaining healthy and balanced marine ecosystems. Some bluefin sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the commercial market, which incentivizes some fishermen to overfish these species.
Rebuilding bluefin stocks will take work, but if the government and fishery managers stay committed, fishermen will reap the benefits through large and stable future catches.”
Earlier this year, Oceana released a report identifying nine of the most wasteful fisheries in the U.S. for bycatch. According to the report, the Atlantic Longline Highly Migratory Species fishery discards 23 percent of its catch every year, including hundreds of thousands of pounds of valuable species like bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks.
To learn more about Oceana’s work on ending bycatch, please click here.