Big Problem for Big Tuna - Tip Sheet

For immediate release: 
June 21, 2013

For immediate release

Contacts:
Tom Wheatley, Pew Charitable Trusts,
twheatley@pewtrusts.org, 813-933-2048

Harry Lowenburg, Gulf Restoration Network,
harry@healthygulf.org, 504-525-1528, ext. 208, 504-352-9355

 

Big Problem for Big Tuna

New Report Reveals Massive Bluefin Bycatch
 
According to new data just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), the surface longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic wasted almost 25 percent of the entire U.S. bluefin tuna quota. These new estimates show the highest levels of dead discards of bluefin caught on surface longlines since 1987. Surface longlines intended for swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas (excluding bluefin) stretch for up to 40 miles with hundreds of baited hooks. 
 
In 2012, surface longline vessels discarded an estimated 239.5 mt of dead Atlantic bluefin. Many of those were caught in the Gulf of Mexico—the western population’s only known spawning area. The 239.5 mt statistic does not include 89.6 mt of fish landed (kept and sold) or those thrown back “alive,” many of which will die following release.
 
In response to these staggering numbers, as of June 25, NOAA Fisheries will prohibit surface longline vessels from keeping any more bluefin tuna caught this calendar year. However, that solution does nothing to prevent those same vessels from catching bluefin tuna while targeting yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Fishermen will need to throw overboard all of those bluefin; many will already be dead or dying.
 
A solution at hand
NOAA Fisheries is drafting new proposed bluefin tuna regulations, due out this summer. The agency could finally put forth a comprehensive solution to this decades-old problem that is only getting worse. The rule must:
•       Close the Gulf of Mexico to surface longlining to protect spawning bluefin tuna and support the transition of surface longlines to more selective fishing methods;
•       Reduce bluefin mortality in the western Atlantic by enforcing a firm annual limit on the incidental catch of bluefin for the entire surface longline fleet; and
•       Improve monitoring of the surface longline fleet.
  
Alternative Gear available
Dr. David Kerstetter, of the NOVA Southeastern University Oceanographic Center is wrapping up a one year study of effectiveness and economic viability of alternative commercial fishing gear for yellowfin tuna and swordfish.  Two Louisiana longline vessels have been participating in that study. 
 
BP damage assessment funds could help with the transition
Much of the impact of the oil disaster was to marine life, yet very little of the $1 Billion for BP's Natural Resource Damage Assessment early restoration projects has gone to deep water projects. The BP Horizon oil disaster happened during the bluefin spawning season and the Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning grounds of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna. Hence funding exists that could help the longline fishermen transition to more selective gear and vessels.

Tom Wheatley, who manages bluefin tuna conservation efforts in the U.S. for The Pew Charitable Trusts, is available to discuss the new bycatch data, its implications and the forthcoming proposed bluefin rule. Harry Lowenburg, Gulf Fish Forever Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network, is available to speak about efforts to protect bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico.

 
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Media Inquiries

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2245
New Orleans, LA 70176

Physical Address:
330 Carondelet, Suite 300
New Orleans, LA 70130

Contact:
Dustin Renaud, Communication Director
Phone: 504-525-1528 ext. 214

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