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Bigeye tuna catch and allocation limits recommended for U.S. Pacific Territories 

By Staff | Mar 24, 2020

HONOLULU – The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in Honolulu recommended that the federal catch limits for longline-caught bigeye tuna for the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for fishing year 2020 remain at 2,000 metric tons each, and the allocation limits be up to 1,500 metric tons each with a cap of 3,000 metric tons overall.

Previously, the allocation limits were up to 1,000 metric tons for each territory. The new allocation limits and cap ensure that the potential environmental impact remains the same while allowing the territories more flexibility in their allocation choices.

The council’s recommendation will be reviewed by the Secretary of Commerce for approval.

Because bigeye tuna is a highly migratory species, conservation and management measures for it are developed internationally by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and, in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

The WCPFC has set longline-caught quotas for six countries, with the U.S. quota being the smallest at 3,554 metric tons.

By comparison, Japan’s quota in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is 17,765 metric tons, of which 500 metric tons is transferred to China. In the EPO, Japan transfers an additional 6,000 metric tons of longline-caught bigeye tuna quota to China and 2,000 metric tons to Korea.

The WCPFC did not set longline-caught bigeye tuna quotas for small island developing states and Participating Territories, including the U.S. Pacific Territories, in recognition of their aspirations to develop their fisheries.

The U.S. Territorial quotas are a federal initiative, recommended by the council. Under U.S. law and as recognized by the WCPFC, the U.S. Participating Territories can allocate a portion of their federal longline-caught bigeye tuna catch limit with permitted U.S. vessels based in Hawaii through specified fishing agreements.

These Hawaii-based longline vessels in exchange provide monetary contributions to the Sustainable Fisheries Fund to support the marine conservation plans developed by the governor of each territory. Fishery development projects in these plans that have been funded in the past have included boat ramps, vessel docks, a fishing platform, workshops and training, fish markets and marketing plans, among others.

The council also recommended setting a target implementation date of Jan. 1, 2021, for requiring mandatory electronic reporting (ER) in the Hawaii longline fishery. Final action is scheduled to be taken during the September 2020 council meeting.

The council also requested that the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center report on total Hawaii billfish catch per year by species and gear type (longline, troll, etc.), and specify how many of these fish were retained, discarded, released and sold.

Finally, the council directed staff to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to obtain publicly available reports and other data on sea turtle interaction rates in foreign fisheries operating in the areas overlapping with the loggerhead and leatherback turtle distributions, and to provide a presentation to the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee at its June 2020 meeting.