Fisheries council balks at longline fishing permit

Members voted to not move forward with an amendment to allow shallow-set longing gear off the West Coast.

COSTA MESA—The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), during its November meetings in Costa Mesa, decided to hold off on an amendment proposing to allow shallow-set longline gear use off the West Coast of the United States.

It is still possible, however, the proposal, which would have amended a Fishery Management Plan for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Coast, could come back to the council.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, wrote a letter to the council on Nov. 18, urging members to not approve any plans to allow shallow-set longline permits.

“Authorization of a California-based longline fishery would be a step backward in the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s longstanding commitment to making meaningful progress toward reducing bycatch within U.S. West Coast fisheries,” Feinstein wrote in her Nov. 18 letter to the council.

She added a new longline fishery would be inconsistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“We understand that NOAA Fisheries may be pursuing longline authorization in order to enhance domestic fisheries production, with an eye toward increased exploitation of ‘underutilized’ stocks,” Feinstein wrote. “However, far from being underutilized, some highly migratory species stocks, such as Pacific bluefin tuna, Eastern Pacific swordfish and Eastern Pacific yellowfin tuna, are either overfished or subject to overfishing.

“Pursuit of a new longline fishery also appears to be wholly inconsistent with the bycatch requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Feinstein continued in her letter.

Eric Sklar, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, also wrote a letter to PFMC members, urging them to engage in a robust public process before making any decisions on use of short-set longline gear.

“Due to unacceptable levels of bycatch and interactions with protected species, the commission does not support the use of [shallow-set longline] gear, whether inside or outside of the [West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone],” Sklar wrote in a letter on behalf of the Fish and Game Commission.

“While the commission is opposed to the currently unacceptable levels of bycatch with [shallow-set longline] gear, the commission is open to a robust public discussion that addresses numerous questions about how a West Coast [shallow-set longline] fishery outside of the [exclusive economic zone] would operate,” Sklar later wrote in his letter.

Gears used to catch swordfish on the West Coast are managed by the PFMC, specifically the Fishery Management Plan for West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species. Longline is a form of gear used to catch swordfish. Other gears used include large mesh drift gillnets, harpoons and deep-set buoy gear.

Pelagic longline gear cannot be used within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (3 to 200 nautical miles offshore).

“Shallow-set longline fishing … to target swordfish cannot be conducted both east and west of 150 degrees W longitude,” PFMC staff stated in a report to council members. “However, there is general interest in exploring use of pelagic longline gear on the West Coast. Bycatch of non-target finish species and incidental take of protected species wile targeting swordfish remains an ongoing concern for the council because protected species, including whales, dolphins, pinnipeds (e.g. seals, sea lions), sea turtles and seabirds have special status under Federal statutes.”

The council met in Costa Mesa, Nov. 14-20. Members considered the shallow-set longline proposal on Nov. 19. Members of the PFMC could revisit shallow-set longline permits in March 2020; that meeting will be held at Rohnert Park, March 3-9. A vote on an updated amendment, which would take into consideration certain conditions, could be in front of the council at the June meetings in San Diego; the meetings will be held June 11-18.

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