By Steven Fletcher
The Atlantic Bluefin tuna is not endangered.
That's the finding of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which kept Atlantic bluefin tuna out from under federal Endangered Species Act protection Friday in a decision that drew relief throughout the fishing industry, from Gloucester to other ports throughout New England and elsewhere.
NOAA officials said that, after an extensive scientific review, they still consider Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks as "species of concern," meaning that the agency plans more extensive study into the eastern and western Atlantic stocks. But NOAA essentially shot down a request from the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for species protection last September.
The ruling drew extensive support.
"It was the right decision based on sound science," Molly Lutcavage, director of University of Massachusetts' Large Pelagics Research Chester, told the Times. The center is now based in Gloucester.
Lutcavage said the research and assessments done by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, or ICCAT, indicated that an endangered species listing wasn't warranted.
NOAA's status review team, according to Larry Robinson, NOAA's assistant secretary for conservation and management, will examine the species of concern designation in 2013.
At that review, the agency plans to have a more complete assessment concerning the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill's effect on the Gulf of Mexico spawning ground. Their review also awaits on a new stock assessment from ICCAT,
Friday's ruling, according to NOAA, assumes that ICCAT's fishing quotas will be followed, but that species did not warrant the added protection of recognized endangered status.
"Based on careful scientific review, we have decided that the best way to ensure the long-term stainability of bluefin tuna is through international cooperation and strong domestic fishery management." said Eric Schwaab, administrator for NOAA's fisheries service.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, hailed the NOAA decision, adding that, if the species was listed as endangered, it would have imposed disastrous restrictions on New England's fishermen.
"I am pleased NOAA has made the right, scientifically sound decision with regards to bluefin tuna," she said in a prepared statement. "Such a listing would have unilaterally penalized U.S. fishermen."
American Bluefin Tuna Association director Rich Ruais also saluted the NOAA finding, telling Saving Seafood.com, the fisheries news site, that the decision marked a victory for the effective conservation of Atlantic bluefin tuna — and for "the American commercial and recreational fisherman that depend upon or enjoy fishing for bluefin."
Some in Gloucester are already getting ready to the put the NOAA clearance into practice.
At the Fisherman's Outfitter on Main Street Friday, John White, the store's owner, member of the ABTA and a board member on the North Shore Community Tuna Association, said customers stopped in to buy the season's gear moments after he received an e-mail about the decision.
"It's a constant battle," he said, "but this is a positive step in the right direction,"
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.