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Amendment 14 to Squid, Mackerel, Butterfish Available

Announcement of Proposed Rule and notice of availability for Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan

NOAA Fisheries proposes regulations to implement measures in Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan.  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council developed Amendment 14 to improve catch monitoring for the Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish fisheries and to address incidental catch of river herring and shad through responsible management.  Amendment 14 management measures include: Revising dealer and vessel reporting requirements, and requirements for vessel monitoring systems; increasing observer coverage on midwater trawl mackerel and Tier 1, 2 and 3 small-mesh bottom trawl mackerel vessels; implementing partial industry funding for observer coverage; revising vessel requirements to improve at-sea sampling by observers; establishing slippage caps to discourage the discarding of catch prior to sampling by observers; and establishing a mortality cap for river herring and shad with amounts to be set during specifications. 

You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2013-0128, by any of the following methods:

The comment period for the notice of availability and Proposed Rule for Amendment 14 for Amendment 14 ends on October 11, 2013.  Comments submitted prior to October 11, 2013, will be considered in NOAA Fisheries’ decision to approve, partially approve, or disapprove Amendment 14.

 

Q.  Why are you proposing new management measures for the Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish fisheries?

A.  The primary goals of Amendment 14 are to implement an effective program for monitoring river herring and shad incidentally caught in these fisheries; and reduce the incidental catch of river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery. 

 

Q.  What are the measures under consideration for minimizing bycatch?

A.  There are several measures under consideration for minimizing bycatch. 

One of those measures is the ongoing voluntary river herring bycatch avoidance program, conducted by the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, MA Division of Marine Fisheries, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science.  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will review this program and may use the information generated to create additional measures to avoid river herring interactions with the mackerel fishery in a future action. 

Another proposed measure would place a cap on the amount of river herring and shad that could be caught in the mackerel fishery.  This  cap amount would be identified when catch limits are set for 2014.  At its June 2013 meeting, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council selected a combined catch cap for river herring and shad of 236 mt.  The Council is finalizing its analysis of these measures and will submit its final recommendation to NOAA Fisheries shortly when it submits it 2014 catch limit recommendations.  

 

Q.  What is the River Herring Bycatch Avoidance Program?  How will this help protect river herring and shad?

A.  The Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, the MA Division of Marine Fisheries, and the

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Marine Science are working on a voluntary “river herring bycatch avoidance strategy.”  This strategy includes real-time communication with fishing vessels on river herring and shad distribution and encounters in the Atlantic herring fishery, portside sampling, and data collection to evaluate if oceanographic features may predict high rates of river herring and shad encounters.  The mackerel and Atlantic herring fisheries overlap in location and participation, so the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council hopes that it may be able to apply lessons learned from this study to the mackerel fishery. 

 

Q.  Several measures were recently disapproved in Herring Amendment 5.  Those measures are similar to measures in Amendment 14.  Are you going to disapprove those measures in Amendment 14?

A.  Similar measures are included in both Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan and Amendment 14 to the Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan.  However, we are considering the two recommended actions independently of each other along with the analysis and rationale for their adoption because these fisheries operate differently and the measures were recommended by two separate fishery management councils.  This means we will still go through the proposed/final rule process with Amendment 14, even though we have disapproved similar measures in Amendment 5.

 

Q.  What are your concerns with approving the Council’s recommendations to increase observer coverage and require partial industry-funding for increased coverage?

A.  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommended 100% observer coverage on some mackerel vessels and that the industry pay $325 per day toward this coverage.  We have concerns with these measures because the at-sea costs associated with observer coverage in the mackerel fishery are higher than $325 per day and currently, there isn’t a mechanism to allow cost-sharing for observer coverage between NOAA Fisheries and the industry. 

However, we are continuing to work with the Council to develop a funding solution to pay for these costs.  If we can develop a way to fund the at-sea costs of observer coverage, measures requiring 100% observer coverage may be implemented in a future action, subject to NOAA Fisheries’ budget appropriations and observer coverage priorities. 

Q & As describing the decision to disapprove similar measures in Herring Amendment 5 is available here. (link to Am 5 decision page)

 

Q.  If Amendment 14 will not increase observer coverage, does the amendment propose other improvements to catch monitoring?

A.  Yes.  (1) Establishing trip notification requirements to help place observers on mackerel vessels ; and (2) Expanding vessel requirements to help observers collect catch information in a safe and efficient way; and (3) Requiring daily vessel monitoring system (VMS) catch reports for mackerel and longfin squid permit holders, and weekly VTRs for all mackerel, squid, and butterfish permit holders.

 

Q.  What are your concerns with the Council’s recommendation for new dealer reporting

requirements?

A.  The Council recommended that mackerel, squid, and butterfish dealers accurately weigh all fish and, for mackerel transactions over 20,000 lb and longfin squid transitions over 2,500 lb, and document how they determine the composition of the catch.  These measures don’t specify how fish are to be weighed or provide standards for estimating species composition.  Without accompanying standards for data collection, these proposed measures may not improve the accuracy of data reported by dealers; therefore, we are concerned that the additional reporting burden on the dealers wouldn’t be justified.

Q & As describing the decision to disapprove similar measures in Herring Amendment 5 is available here. (link to Am 5 decision page)

 

Q.  What is slippage and how does it differ from operational discards?

A.  If catch is discarded before it has been brought aboard the vessel and made available to the

observer for sampling, that catch is defined as slippage.  Fish that cannot be pumped aboard the vessel and remain in the net at the end of pumping operations are considered operational discards and not slipped catch. 

 

Q.  What measures did the Council recommend to address slippage?

A.  The Council recommended that all catch be brought aboard the vessel and made available to the observer for sampling. 

 

Q.  Are there situations when slippage would be allowed?

A. The Council recommended that if catch cannot be brought aboard, catch may be slipped if:  (1) bringing catch aboard compromises the safety of the vessel; (2) mechanical failure prevents the catch from being brought aboard; or (3) spiny dogfish, which can clog the nets, prevents the catch from being pumped aboard.  If catch is slipped, the vessel operator would be required to report why catch was slipped, estimate the quantity and species composition of the slipped catch, and the time and location of the slipped catch.

 

Q.  How does the proposed slippage cap work?

A.  Once there have been 10 slippage events for the entire mackerel fleet by vessels carrying an observer, vessels that subsequently slip catch and are carrying an observer would be required to return to port. 

 

Q.  Are there instances where slippage would not be counted against the cap?

A.  Slippage would not count against the cap if catch was slipped for safety reasons, mechanical reasons, of if spiny dogfish prevented the catch from being pumped aboard the vessel.

 

Q.  Why did the Council recommend slippage caps?

A.  To provide a disincentive to prevent vessels from discarding catch before it is made available for sampling, while allowing vessels to be able to slip catch when there are safety concerns or mechanical problems.

 

Q.  Why is NOAA Fisheries not supportive of slippage caps?

A.  We are concerned with the fairness of and rationale behind the slippage caps.  The slippage cap is potentially unfair, because the requirement to return to port may be applied to vessels that had no role in the previous 10 slippage events. 

The threshold for triggering a slippage cap (10 slippage events by area and gear type) doesn’t have a strong biological or operational basis.  Observer data indicate that the estimated amount of slipped catch is relatively low compared to fishery landings.  From 2006-2010 approximately 26 percent (73 of 277 or 15 per year) of hauls on observed mackerel trips (trips that caught 50 percent or more mackerel or at least 100,000 lb of mackerel) had some unobserved catch.  Hauls may be unobserved for a variety of reasons—for example transfer of catch to another vessel without an observer, observers not being on deck to sample a given haul, or hauls released from the net while still in the water. 

Q & As describing the decision to disapprove similar measures in Herring Amendment 5 is available here. (link to Am 5 decision page)

 

Q.  If slippage caps are not implemented as part of Amendment 14, are there other measures that help improve monitoring in the mackerel fishery?

A.  Yes.  Even if slippage caps are not implemented, the ongoing data collection by the Observer Program would still allow for improved monitoring in the mackerel fishery and an incentive to minimize the discarding of unsampled catch.