PIFSC Sea Turtle Longline Research EA June 1, 2009
1.3 Regulatory Basis for Reducing Sea Turtle Bycatch in Domestic and International Longline Fisheries
Because Hawaii-based longline fishery vessels occasionally incidentally hook threatened and endangered species of sea turtles, they have been the subject of consultations required by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These consultations have resulted in publications of Biological Opinions prepared by NMFS which contain discretionary and nondiscretionary measures for protection of listed sea turtles.
The original Biological Opinion for both the Hawaii-based shallow-set and deep-set longline fishery (as well as the American Samoa longline and regional non-longline pelagic fisheries combined) was prepared in 2004 (NMFS 2004). Formal consultation was re-initiated for the deep-set component of the longline fishery in 2005 when the limit for incidental take of olive ridley sea turtles identified in the Incidental Take Statement was exceeded in 2004 (NMFS 2005). The Biological Opinion for the Hawaii-based deep-set longline fishery, which primarily targets tuna in the Pacific Ocean, was prepared in 2005 (NMFS 2005).
The original 2004 Biological Opinion for the Hawaii-based shallow-set fishery evaluated the use of large diameter circle hooks baited with fish instead of squid. This Biological Opinion limited effort in this sector of the fleet to 2,120 sets annually (based on 50% of the average annual number of sets fished from 1994 through 1999), and set “hard caps” on the interactions with leatherbacks and loggerheads to 16 and 17, respectively, for the shallow-set fishery.. In 2008, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council evaluated and recommended an increase in the number of sets to be that of the maximum number of sets fished in the Hawaii- based fishery between 1994 and 1999 (5,550 sets, an increase from the current 2,120 sets), ultimately maintained the cap on annual interactions for leatherback sea turtles at 16 as a precautionary measure (down from the proposed cap of 19), and increased the annual cap for incidental interactions with loggerhead turtles from 17 to 46 annually (WPRFMC August 2008a, WPRFMC October 2008b). These recommended changes to the number of sets were evaluated in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for Amendment 18 to the Fishery Management Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific Region (WPRFMC 2008) and the caps were set as non-discretionary Reasonable and Prudent Measures No. 1 for loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles (NMFS 2008a).
In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (MSA) of 2006 (Public Law 109-479), which was signed into law in January 2007, amends the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act (Moratorium Protection Act, Public Law 104-43) to require the United States to take actions to, among other things, address bycatch of protected living marine resources by vessels of foreign nations. Per the Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard 9, the National Standard regulating bycatch in fisheries, (50 CFR 600.350), the first priority for reducing bycatch should be to avoid catching bycatch species where possible, and, to the extent that bycatch cannot be avoided, minimizing mortality of such bycatch; that reducing bycatch is mandatory to the extent practicable; and that NMFS, rather than the Fishery Management Councils, has the responsibility to implement bycatch reduction management measures. The existing program for the deep-set fishery (NMFS 2005) and the existing and proposed program for the shallow-set fishery are both consistent with National Standard 9 because they continue to use circle hooks and mackerel bait, which have been shown