Congressman John Tierney, Massachusetts’ other U.S. House lawmakers, and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have all signed onto a letter urging NOAA’s acting chief fisheries administrator to “make key reforms” to a proposed new rule managing the harvesting of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
In their letter, sent Friday to acting Administrator Samuel D. Rauch III, Tierney, the two senators, and the state’s other delegation members — from South Shore and South Coast representatives William Keating and Joseph P. Kennedy III to Lowell-based Niki Tsongas and Western Mass. Congressman Richard Neal — all called for NOAA to make certain that any mandates ensure “equity among fishing participants from different regions, future fishing opportunities for Massachusetts’ traditional near-shore fishing industry, and the long-term sustainability of this unique fish.”
The letter comes as groundfishermen out of Gloucester and other New England ports continue to confront dire cuts of up to 78 percent in allowable landing limits for Gulf of Maine cod and other species in the current fishing year, which began May 1 and carries to next April 30. In the meantime, a growing number of fishermen have sought to bridge the gap by fishing for tuna out of ports including Gloucester, which is also the focal point of the acclaimed National Geographic reality TV series “Wicked Tuna.”
“Although we are generally encouraged by some of the provisions in this draft rule,” the federal lawmakers said of NOAA’s tuna management proposal, “we are concerned with several management options that could threaten our Massachusetts fishing fleet.
“Over 1,000 traditional near-shore fishermen in Massachusetts depend on healthy Atlantic bluefin tuna populations and utilize selective fishing techniques,” reads the letter, also signed by Massachusetts U.S. Reps. James P. McGovern, Michael Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch. “The proposed rule, as currently drafted, could put these Massachusetts fishermen at a significant disadvantage.”
The NOAA draft proposal, first outlined in August, targets several changes to current regulations, including:
Implementing an annual cap for bluefin killed on surface longlines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Allocating that cap among surface longline fishermen by establishing an “Individual Bluefin Quota” system, seen as loosely equivalent to NOAA’s groundfishing catch share system that many fishermen blame for steering more and more quota to large boats and corporations, and freezing out smaller, independent boats which may not have the capital to compete.
Establishing a gear restriction area in the Gulf of Mexico for March through May, where surface longlines would be prohibited throughout the Gulf, but highly selective alternative gears such as greensticks and buoy gear would be allowed.
Establishing another gear restriction area off Cape Hatteras, N.C., from December through April.
The lawmakers’ letter notes that longline vessels have surpassed their quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna by more than 100 percent in each of the last five years, and in 2012, discarded some 239.5 metric tons of dead Atlantic bluefin — but that many of those discards occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, the most-documented spawning ground for the western populations of bluefin.
“The traditional Massachusetts fleet utilizes selective fishing methods to target Atlantic bluefin, including rod and reel, harpoons, greensticks and handlines, which minimize any unintentional catch,” the delegation’s letter said. “Changes to the existing quota allocation could allow fleets from other regions to utilize a disproportionate amount of quota as discards and deprive our region’s fishermen of this vital resource.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services