US Fishery Service Proposes Catch Limit For Bigeye Tuna

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2,000 metric ton limit proposed for Am. Samoa, Guam, CNMI

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Aug. 25, 2015) – The US National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) is proposing a catch limit of bigeye tuna for the longline fishery in American Samoa and the other two Pacific territories as well as accountability measures supporting the long term sustainability of fisheries in the US Pacific islands, according to NMFS documents released yesterday on the federal portal www.regulations.gov

NMFS is accepting public comments on the proposal, which was recommended by the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, until Sept. 8 this year.

On a related issue, NMFS is now accepting applications for the American Samoa longline limited entry permits in three vessel size classes for 2015.

CATCH LIMIT 2015

According to NMFS, the proposed action would specify a 2015 limit of 2,000 metric tons (mt) (or 4,409,240 pounds) of longline-caught bigeye tuna for each U.S. Pacific territory — American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

The draft Environmental Assessment report, dated Aug. 18, says the proposed catch limit is needed as a proactive management action for U.S. territories because they are not currently subject to a limit under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Conservation and Management Measures (CMM).

Therefore the Council determined that the catch limit would prevent the potential for uncontrolled harvest of bigeye tuna in territorial longline fisheries in the future, the report states.

The proposal would also allow each territory to allocate up to 1,000 mt (or 2,204,620 lb) of its 2,000 mt bigeye tuna limit each year to U.S. longline fishing vessels in a specified fishing agreement that meets established criteria set by federal regulations, says NMFS in its public notice.

As an accountability measure, NMFS says it would monitor, attribute, and restrict — if necessary — catches of longline-caught bigeye tuna by vessels in the applicable U.S. territory, if the territorial catch limit is projected to be reached, or by vessels operating under the applicable specified fishing agreement, if the allocation limit is projected to be reached.

NMFS added that the proposal applies to longline vessels federally permitted under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (Pelagic FEP), specifically Hawai’i longline limited entry, American Samoa longline limited entry, and Western Pacific general longline permit holders — which covers Guam and CNMI.

As of July this year, NMFS said 140 vessels possessed Hawai’i longline limited entry permits (out of 164 total permits), 47 possessed American Samoa longline limited entry permits (out of 60 total permits), and no vessels held Western Pacific general longline permits.

According to the environmental assessment report, the longline fishery based in American Samoa is a limited access fishery with a maximum of 60 vessels under the federal permit program, which is managed by NMFS.

The fishery primarily targets albacore for canning in the local Pago Pago cannery, although the fishery also catches and retains other tunas (e.g., bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack), and other pelagic management unit species (PMUS) for sale and home consumption.

Based on fishery logbook data from 2013, only 22 of 47 permitted American Samoa pelagic longline vessels participated in the fishery. The 22 vessels turned in logbooks reporting the landing of 162,444 pelagic fish (approximately 6 million lb) valued at $6,772,386 (or $6.77 million). Albacore made up the largest proportion of pelagic landings at 4,525,453 lb and bigeye tuna comprised of 187,954 lb. (Data for 2014 was not yet available)

With 22 active longline vessels, the ex-vessel value of pelagic fish caught by the American Samoa longline fishery averaged about $307,836 per vessel in 2013, according to the environmental assessment report, which also states that the proposed action would not result in significant adverse economic impact to individual vessels.

"Historical catch of bigeye tuna by the American Samoa longline fleet has been less than 2,000 mt," it says.

Information of interest in the environmental assessment report states that due to a historical lack of fresh fish markets in American Samoa, large yellowfin and bigeye tunas are sometimes discarded if caught at the beginning of the fishing trip, because fish of such size are not optimal for cannery operations.

Now that Tri Marine International is established in Pago Pago and offering to buy fresh/frozen tuna for export markets from local American Samoa longline vessels, there is potential that tuna and other Pelagic MUS that may have otherwise been bycatch will be retained and sold.

This may likely reduce bycatch levels from historical levels; however, this is also conditional on fleet upgrades (e.g., ice machines) and training (e.g., fresh fish handling), it says.

LONGLINE PERMITS

Last week, NMFS announced that 12 American Samoa longline limited entry permits in three vessel size classes are available for 2015 and a completed permit application and payment must be received by Dec. 3 this year.

According to NMFS, nine permits are available in Class A - vessels less than or equal to 40 ft in overall length; two in Class B (from over 40 ft to 50 ft): and one in Class D (over 70 ft.) It also says that the number of available permits may change before the application period closes.

Additionally, applicants with the earliest documented participation in the fishery on a Class A sized vessel will receive the highest priorities for obtaining permits in any size class, followed by applicants with the earliest documented participation in Classes B, C, and D, in that order.

Details on the proposed limit on bigeye tuna catch, including the 181 page environmental assessment report and the longline permit are publicly available on the federal portal (www.regulations.gov)

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