The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently completed a draft Environmental Assessment (EA)/Regulatory Impact Review (RIR)/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), and proposed rule to implement Draft Amendment 8 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The purpose of Draft Amendment 8 is to provide additional opportunities for U.S. fishermen to harvest swordfish using selective gears that are low in bycatch, given the rebuilt status of swordfish and their resulting increased availability. The goal is for the United States to more fully utilize its domestic swordfish quota allocation, which is based upon the recommendation of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. This action considers several options that would allow new entrants into the commercial swordfish handgear fishery under low (zero to six fish) retention limits.
At this time, the preferred alternatives would:
Establish a new open-access commercial swordfish handgear permit similar to the existing Atlantic Tunas General category permit. Authorized gears under this new permit would include rod and reel, handline, harpoon, green-stick, and bandit gear. HMS Charter/Headboat vessel permit holders would also be authorized to fish with rod and reel and handline under open-access swordfish commercial retention limits when not on a for-hire trip.
Provide regional management of this new permit, allowing for in-season retention limit changes in each region. The geographic range of the proposed regions would be based upon large reporting areas ((Northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Caribbean) with the addition of a separate Florida Swordfish Management Area. The separate Florida Swordfish Management Area would include the boundaries of the East Florida Coast Pelagic Longline Closed Area (extended along the south side of the Florida Keys to 82º 0’ W longitude) through the northwestern boundary of Monroe County, FL in the Gulf of Mexico (i.e., a region of Florida Bay that is south of 25º 48’ N latitude and east of 82º 0’ W longitude) (see Figure 1). The separate Florida area would be established due to the area’s unique importance as a swordfish migratory corridor and as juvenile swordfish habitat.
Set initial default swordfish retention limits separately in each region, ranging from zero to six fish, and provide for in-season adjustment to the regional retention limits based upon pre-established criteria (i.e., review of dealer reports, quota availability, landing trends, availability of swordfish on the fishing grounds, variations in seasonal distribution, abundance, or swordfish migration patterns, and other relevant factors). Proposed initial default retention limits are: a 1-fish limit for the Florida Swordfish Management Area; a 2-fish limit for the U.S. Caribbean region; and, a 3-fish limit for the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions.
This rule could affect the commercial and recreational swordfish fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, including U.S. Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters.
Under 304(g)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and under the regulatory process for managing Atlantic HMS, NMFS is required to consult with affected Fishery Management Councils, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas commissioners and advisory groups, and the HMS Advisory Panel established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act regarding proposed management actions. We are requesting your comments on the enclosed proposed rule and Draft EA/RIR/IRFA. The Draft EA/RIR/IRFA and proposed rule are also available electronically on the website of the HMS Management Division at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.
Written comments, identified by “0648-BC31”, may be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=[FDMS Docket Number], click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Comments may also be submitted to HMS Management Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; or, faxed to 301-713-1917, Attn: Jennifer Cudney by April 23, 2013. If you have any questions, please contact Rick Pearson at 727-824-5399 or Jennifer Cudney at 301-427-8503.