Federal officials to set 2018 catch limits for Pacific bluefin tuna

The highly migratory species actually makes up a small percentage of catches for West Coast fisheries.

STATEWIDE — The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working on a final rule for the 2018 catch limit of Pacific bluefin tuna.

NMFS and NOAA action on a 2018 quota is necessary to fulfill the United States’ obligations as a member nation of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and part of a larger effort to rebuild the Pacific bluefin tuna fishery.

Public comments on the proposed rule were submitted to federal officials through the Jan. 8 deadline.

The proposed rule – issued on FederalRegister.gov on Dec. 7 – stated the U.S. commercial fishing fleet is likely to be limited to 120 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna catches in 2018.

“U.S. commercial fishing vessels are subject to a biennial limit for 2017 and 2018. Preliminary estimates indicate that the catch limit in 2018 is approximately 120 metric tons,” the proposed rule document stated. “To avoid exceeding the biennial limit, NMFS is proposing a 1-[metric ton] trip limit – except for large-mesh drift gillnet vessels, which would be subject to a 2-[metric ton] trip limit – throughout 2018 or until the 2018 catch limit is reached and the fishery is closed.”

An NMFS determination in 2011 declared the Pacific bluefin tuna biomass as overfished. A stock assessment in 2016 determined Pacific bluefin tuna continue to be overfished and subject to overfishing, leading to the adoption of catch limits by IATTC (and implemented by NMFS).

Pacific bluefin tuna constitutes only a small portion of the overall revenue purse seine vessels earn in the United States.

Only four of eight purse seine vessels in California were involved in the landing about 401 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna in 2014, according to the proposed rule document. The tuna on those four vessels were worth about $588,000 at West Coast ports.

Five purse seine vessels netted about $75,000 worth of Pacific bluefin tuna in 2015, according to the proposed rule document.

“The revenue derived from Pacific bluefin tuna is a fraction of the overall revenue for coastal pelagic purse seine vessels (3.9 percent annually from 2006-2015) as they typically harvest other species, including Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, squid, and anchovy,” federal officials stated in the proposed rule document.

Such statistics could certainly provide fuel to all who state the United States is not responsible for the current state of the Pacific bluefin tuna biomass.

A tuna auction held at Japan’s Tsukiji’s Fish Market on Jan. 4, conversely, reportedly yielded $323,311 for an 890-pound bluefin. It was the final fish auction held at the Tokyo market, which is set to relocate. The all-time record for a tuna sale in Japan was set in 2013, when someone paid $1,398,100 for a bluefin, according to Reuters.

The biennial catch limit for IATTC member and non-member nations was 600 metric tons for 2017 and 2018; the United States already reported about 480 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna caught in 2017, meaning the 2018 catch limit would top out at 120 metric tons (assuming the final 2017 numbers do not increase).

Mexico was the only country not subject to the 600-metric-ton biennial catch limit; the Mexican commercial fishery contingency cannot exceed 425 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna catches in any given calendar year.

The United States is one of 21 nations and four cooperating member nations of the IATTC. The commission itself, according to the NMFS-NOAA proposed rule document, “facilities scientific research into, as well as the conservation and management of, tuna and tuna-like species.”

IATTC’s conservation area is primarily the Eastern Pacific Ocean, including the Western United States.

Contact Celia Barroso of NOAA at Celia.Barroso@noaa.gov for more information about the proposed final rule.

NOAA/Danilo Cedrone

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