Today, NOAA Fisheries announced measures that provide more fishing opportunities for vessels targeting Atlantic swordfish and some tuna species. We will continue under these measures to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.
The changes give fishermen using pelagic longlines access to new fishing areas originally closed to reduce the number of bluefin caught unintentionally. Under the new rules, longline fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico are also required to use weak hooks only when bluefin tuna are spawning. This means they are only required to use them January through June rather than year-round.
Regardless of where or when they fish, longline fishermen are still not allowed to target bluefin tuna. They can keep some caught unintentionally, but they have to stay within their individual allocation of the U.S. bluefin quota. This allows them to fish for economically valuable species like swordfish and other tunas while protecting bluefin.
The measures are in part a response to the success of the Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) Program in reducing bluefin bycatch. We also designed the measures to help reverse a trend of underharvesting the U.S. swordfish quota.
“The success of the IBQ Program has allowed us to simplify and streamline Atlantic HMS management,” said Randy Blankinship, who leads the group responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin in the United States. “With this rule, we are optimizing fishing opportunities for pelagic longline fishermen while continuing to manage and conserve bluefin tuna through the IBQ program and other management measures.”
The Number of U.S.-Caught Swordfish is Falling
Every country that fishes for North Atlantic swordfish is given an annual quota by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The collective total is set at a level to ensure nations don’t harvest swordfish faster than the population can be replenished.
The baseline quota for the United States is 2,937 metric tons a year. U.S. fishermen harvest just a fraction of that. In fact, domestic swordfish landings have fallen almost every year since 2012. In 2018, for example, we only harvested 34 percent of our quota.