Swordfish retention limitation removed for American Samoa
Washington, D.C. — The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) yesterday announced through the federal portal (www.regulations.gov) that a final rule, effective Dec. 10th, will remove the swordfish retention limit in the American Samoa deep-set longline fishery. “
“The intent of this rule is to eliminate wasteful regulatory discards of marketable seafood, increasing efficiency and benefits to the local community and the Nation,” said NMFS, which announced the proposed rule on June 29th this year and also sought public comments at the time.
NMFS explained that the limit was intended to discourage switching from deep-set gear targeting albacore to shallow-set gear targeting swordfish because shallow-set fishing may interact more frequently with green sea turtles than deep-set fishing due to the depth of the hooks.
In the years since implementation of that rule, NMFS said the number of swordfish caught per trip has been small, and there has been no evidence that longline fishermen have targeted swordfish, nor has there been any recent interest in shallow-set fishing in the South Pacific. From 2008 through 2018, the average number of swordfish caught was 1.3 fish per trip.
The requirement for vessels over 40 ft to discard swordfish in excess of the 10-fish limit results in wasteful discards, lost revenues, and an unnecessary reduction in seafood, it says.
“Removing the swordfish limit allows fishermen to retain a few more swordfish that might be caught incidentally during deep-set fishing and are otherwise wastefully discarded,” said NMFS. “This rule maintains existing gear and operational safeguards to reduce interactions with green sea turtles.”
NMFS also responded to seven comments it received during the public comment period which ended in mid July.
One commenter argued that the limited amount of discarded swordfish does not constitute a reduction in seafood available to the Nation, so the limit should be retained.
“Although the amount of swordfish discarded is small, the fish have already been caught. Requiring their discard is unnecessarily wasteful,” was NMFS’ response. “This rule considers the importance of supplying fresh fish to the American Samoa community by allowing retention of those few fish that would otherwise have been discarded.”
Another commenter had argued that eliminating the swordfish retention limit for fishing south of the Equator might incentivize other U.S. longline fisheries to shift their fishing location. If NMFS removes the retention limit, the commenter suggested that the rule should apply only to vessels with an American Samoa longline limited access permit.
NMFS responded saying that American Samoa has a very small market demand for fresh fish, and limited options to export fresh-frozen fish. Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that shallow-set longline fishermen from other areas would consider landing their catch in Pago Pago.
Also, restricting the action to a permit type, rather than fishing location, would not directly control where fishermen could land their catch. “This is because vessels may have multiple permits, which allows them to land their catch in Hawaii, American Samoa, or the West Coast,” NMFS explained.
“Practical constraints, however, such as the travel distance between ports of landing with high fuel costs, and the lack of a swordfish market in American Samoa, result in distinct fisheries that fish and land their catch either in and around American Samoa, or in and around Hawaii and California,” the federal agency said.