Belle Chasse, LA ” On Tuesday night, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a public hearing on proposed bluefin tuna regulations, attended by approximately 70 Gulf residents. Among other things, these proposed rules would restrict surface longline fishing in portions of the Gulf of Mexico during April and May, and implement an individual vessel annual cap for bluefin killed on surface lines. Dozens of people testified at the hearing calling on NOAA to strengthen protections for bluefin and commit to helping fund fishermen’s transitions from longlines to more sustainable gear.”Bluefin tuna were directly impacted by the BP disaster, and with billions of restoration dollars soon flowing to the Gulf, NOAA has a real opportunity for win/win when it comes to protecting bluefin tuna,” said Harry Lowenburg, Gulf Fish Forever Organizer with Gulf Restoration Network. “NOAA should restrict surface longline fishing in the Gulf, while using BP disaster restoration dollars to help fishermen transition to more sustainable gear.” The Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning ground for Western Atlantic bluefin tuna, and even before the BP disaster, bluefin tuna populations were threatened. Due to decades of overfishing and wasteful fishing methods, the population of western Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined to just 64 percent of its 1970s level. Expanded restrictions on longlining during the spawning season could help these populations rebound.”These proposed rules just don’t go far enough when it comes to protecting bluefin tuna during spawning season,” stated Steve Murchie, Campaign Director for Gulf Restoration Network. “NOAA should expand restrictions on longline fishing from January to June and include all areas where bluefin are known to spawn.” Although longliners are targeting other species like yellowfin tuna and swordfish, they also catch more than 80 unintended marine species ” including bluefin tuna. Alternative, more selective fishing methods ” including “greenstick” gear that is currently being studied here in the Gulf – are available, but transitioning to new gears would be expensive for fishermen. Funds for this effort could come from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) from the BP disaster.”The impacts from the BP disaster to bluefin spawning areas from the oil disaster exacerbated the already existing problems, and have impacted bluefin and their environment,” said Bobby Nguyen, a fisheries consultant. “NRDA funding could help mitigate the costs to longline fishermen in the Gulf by providing the resources to acquire and install the necessary selective fishing gear and the smaller, more efficient boats that these gears require, as well as provide education opportunities for the new system.” ###To view a copy of NOAA’s press release on the proposed rules, click here.Gulf Restoration Network is a 19 year old non-profit dedicated to empowering people to protect and restore the health of the Gulf of Mexico.