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May 21, 2012

Bluefin groups blame NOAA for tuna discard rap

NOAA's preliminary focus in attempting to control and eliminate discarded bluefin tuna is on the U.S. pelagic longline fishing fleet, which targets healthy stocks of sword and other tunas but also discards an average of more than 100 metric tons of bluefin a year, according to industry figures.

The prized fighter and food fish is managed via a quota system that divides the allocated catch between fishing categories both commercial and recreational, and also gives 8.1 percent of the total to the longliners who are not allowed to target bluefin, but may keep a proportion of its bycatch while discarding the rest. Bycatch is the term given to fish that is unintentionally hauled up by fishing boats that are targeting other species.

The American Bluefin Tuna Association, which represents commercial fishermen, reports dead discards by longline fishermen ranged from a low of 90 metric tons to a high of 160 metric tons between 2005 and 2010.

But the association faults the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not the longliners, who are represented by the Blue Water Fishermen's Association.

"Today, with the swordfish resource completely rebuilt ... more longline vessels are returning to active duty and placing more baited hooks in the water," said Richard Ruais, executive director of the tuna association. "The increased swordfish effort is coming at a time when significant Mediterranean reductions of bluefin catches in the east are resulting in more bluefin emigrating across the Atlantic, and many more being intercepted by the U.S. longline hooks."

At the same time, NOAA's leadership has voluntarily reduced the bluefin quota, Ruais said in an email to the Times. His comments supplemented talking points delivered to a scoping meeting held by NOAA in Gloucester last Wednesday. Meetings continue throughout the range of the global migrator through June.

The comment period on how to alter the management plan and reduce waste of a heralded fighting fish and the most prized fin fish in the global sushi market continues through July 15. Then, NOAA will publish a draft amendment to the 1999 fishery management plan.

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