Hi Folks, You may have heard there is a proposal to add the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna to the list of endangered species. The ABTA has asked to have fishermen express comments prior to a NOAA/NMFS review of this process. I have attached my comments in the letter below. If you choose to comment or appear at a hearing, the schedule and contact info is here:
The meeting schedule is as follows: (each meeting begins at 10am):
Jan 5 - NMFS Lab in Sandy Hook, NJ
Jan 6 - Mariner's House in Boston, MA
Jan 7 - Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, ME
Jan 10- NMFS Lab in Pascagoula, MS
Jan 11- NMFS Lab in Beaufort, NC
NMFS has also arranged to have a Web Ex for each session. If you are interested in participating via Web Ex, please contact Kim with the date of the session you are interested in, and she will provide the Web Ex information. Finally, NMFS has reserved an operator assisted conference line for those wishing to call in. The number is 888-455-1634, and the operator will ask for a verbal pass code which is "bluefin tuna." The operator will ask for your name and affiliation and will help to facilitate those on the call to ensure that anyone wishing to ask a question or provide information has the opportunity to do so.
Also written comments can be sent to Kim via email Kimberly Damon-Randall @
(or regular mail at NMFS, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930) no later than close of business on January 18th
Comment, for “Listening Sessions” before the NOAA Status Review Report considering Atlantic BFT for “endangered species status”, as submitted by Capt. Bruce Peters, Chatham, Massachusetts
Over the last 25 years, the US fisher, has operated under and complied with the most conservative rules concerning the harvest of BFT of any member countries in ICCAT. To now have the United States, through NOAA/NMFS to support a listing under the ESA would be a slap in the face to the efforts of US anglers. To support this ESA listing now, would effectively remove the most responsible users of this resource, the US fisherman and management teams, and turn it over to those proven to be less responsible, and less conservative ! An ESA Listing is no longer warranted considering the most recent improvements to Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean BFT management.
The latest ICCAT Standing Committee on Research & Statistics report provides the most positive data on Northern Atlantic BFT management and conservation ever presented to ICCAT. This is a success story and US anglers have led the way. Under the accepted two-line recruitment scenario, stocks have been above objectives since 1970, and fishing mortality is below objectives since 1983. The Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean BFT management however, has been a disaster for the last 2 decades. An independent review of ICCAT found that over-harvest and underreporting were rampant. Due to increased awareness of BFT mismanagement in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean regions, positive changes are now taking place.
Dramatic reductions in Eastern Atlantic TAC from 32,000 t in 2006 to 13,500 t for 2010, further reductions to 12,900 t for 2011, time and area closures, 100% observer coverage on seining and farming operations, 20% observer coverages on other vessels, electronic catch records, VMS, and vessel and port registrations will all have very dramatically positive effects on the stock and harvest accounting of Eastern BFT. According to an ICCAT special meeting (11-27-10) report, these measures of monitoring and control give the stock “a high chance (> 95%) that the condition of the stock will improve in the coming years and of about 67% that it will be fully recovered by 2022.” Considering these recent but long overdue efforts, now is not the time to support a listing of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna to “endangered”. We have struggled too hard and for too long to throw away this fishery now.
I operate a sport-fishing charter boat, and fish commercially in the waters east of Chatham Massachusetts. Over the last dozen years I have observed a marked change in our bluefin catches. I attribute this to both changes in forage species in the near shore areas we usually fish, and changes in retention regulations of the angling category. Huge concentrations of spiny dogfish are prevalent in our waters during the summer months, and compete with predatory tuna for the available food supply. In fall, we can only catch tuna on the edges of the deeper water much further offshore. It is now impossible to use bait for tuna during the months that the dogfish are in our area. Many tuna fishers no longer try for bluefin tuna in the summer months due to the dogfish. This could unrealistically support the perception of a lack of tuna in our waters.
Increased commercial mid water trawling efforts for herring also competes with the bluefin and other fish. Our catches of BFT have dropped drastically as a result of these efficient fishing machines harvesting the forage species of the bluefin. Where these vessels are not allowed, decent numbers of recreational and commercial bluefin are available. A good example would be Stellwagon Bank and Cape Cod Bay. Concentrations of younger class fish were prevalent all season long in these areas but not as abundant on the eastern side of Cape Cod. I attribute that entirely to the herring mid water trawling activity that was going on immediately east of Cape Cod in the last several years.
Recreational charter boat fishing is huge in the Cape Cod, with many anglers, bored with catching the usual striped bass, now target bluefin tuna. The fish we are now catching are either smaller than 487” or 60” to 72” in size. These fish, not within the slot limit size, are released and therefore not landed and reported, and perhaps skewing the estimates of stock size. Every bluefin tuna I caught recreationally last year was released as they were ALL either over 59” or just under 47” slot limit size allowed for retention. Again, these fish were never counted although they are prevalent in our inshore waters. If there were no slot limit, at least vital catch data would then be preserved and recorded.
Commercially, I had the most productive season ever this last year. I travelled well east of the usual fishing grounds, and caught 3 times more giants than the average of my previous seasons. One day, I personally observed a school of giant tuna crashing and feeding on the surface that was 1/4 to 1/2 mile square! I had never seen that before. I don’t believe that NOAA / NMFS has an accurate measurement of stocks in Western Atlantic waters. On the fair weather days that we did get to fish, many miles offshore, it was not hard to catch the limit of 3 tuna in a day. In addition, many more fish were released that were sub legal than what I landed in larger fish. Here again, these fish are not counted and incorrectly assumed to not be in good abundance.
With the increased awareness that the CITES listing for ABFT has generated, perhaps our government will now develop the political will to take the needed steps to make sure ICCAT recommendations are enforced and sanctions, if needed, will be applied. Much of the problems in the East and Mediterranean countries are due to lack of management infrastructure due to economics. Enforcement of sanctions to these countries has been and what is now sorely needed. Listing BFT to “endangered status” would possibly be an easier solution, but would unfairly penalize only US & Canadian fishers, leaving the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean countries free to continue overexploitation.
Thanks for listening,
Capt. Bruce Peters F/V Marilyn S Chatham MA 508 255-0911