February 17, 2017 — SEAFOOD NEWS — HONOLULU — The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced on Monday that it will prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the U.S. Pacific Island deep-set tuna longline fisheries, which target bigeye tuna.
The PEIS will analyze the environmental impacts of management of deep-set tuna longliners, which operate out of Hawaii, American Samoa, and the U.S. West Coast. The need for the proposed action is to manage deep-set tuna longline fisheries under an adaptive management framework that allows for timely management responses to changing environmental conditions, consistent with domestic and international conservation and management measures.
The PEIS will be developed in coordination with the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council based in Honolulu.
Tuna longline fisheries use two distinct gear types: shallow-set vessels target swordfish near the surface and deep-set vessels target tunas deeper than 100 meters.
The deep-set tuna longline fisheries have greater levels of vessel participation, fishing effort, catch, and revenue than the shallow-set fishery. NOAA Fisheries previously evaluated the effects of the shallow-set fishery, so it will not be included in this PEIS.
The primary deep-set tuna longline fisheries are the Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries. Access to the Hawaii longline fisheries is limited to 164 vessel permits, of which about 140 vessels are active. Of these active vessels, about 20 may also shallow-set during any given year. Most vessels in the Hawaii deep-set tuna longline fleet homeport in Hawaii and about 10 operate from ports on the U.S. west coast. These vessels target bigeye tuna.
Access to the American Samoa deep-set tuna fishery is limited to 60 permits. Historically, a few deep-set tuna longline vessels operated out of Guam and the CNMI, but these fisheries have been inactive since 2011.
“The PEIS is a proactive step in the management of deep-set tuna longline fisheries,” said Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds. “It streamlines environmental review for future management decisions and facilitates the ability of fisheries to adaptively respond to changing conditions.”
Management tools used for deep-set tuna longline fisheries include limited assess programs, vessel size limits, area constraints, observers, satellite-based vessel monitoring systems, gear configuration and specific handling and releasing bycatch methods.
Potential management issues include territorial bigeye tuna specifications and transfers, changes to permitting programs, and new gear requirements to further reduce bycatch.
Potential environmental, social and economic issues include the catch of target tuna and non-target (such as sharks) species, interactions with protected species, gear conflicts, and impacts on the ecosystem.
Public comments may be made at the scoping meetings listed below, sent electronically via the agency, or by mail to Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.
Public scoping meetings on the PEIS will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 21 in Hilo and Feb. 23 in Honolulu, Hawaii; Feb. 28 in Utulei, March 1 in Tafuna and March 2 in Pago Pago, American Samoa; March 7 in Susupe, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); and March 9 in Mangilao, Guam.
All comments must be received by April 14, 2017.
This story originally appeared on Seafoodnews.com, a subscription site. It is reprinted with permission.