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PIFSC Sea Turtle Longline Research EA June 1, 2009


Purpose and Need

1.1 Summary of the Proposed Action

The Pacific Islands Science Research Center (PIFSC) Fish Biology and Stock Assessment Division (FBSAD) has, as one of its goals, to identify and test the effectiveness of strategies and techniques for reducing bycatch in commercial fisheries. This analysis, conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), evaluates the Division’s fishery bycatch research program to reduce incidental bycatch of sea turtles in domestic and foreign longline fisheries. This research program focuses on evaluating strategies to reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fishing gear while preserving the catch rates of target fish species by using modified fishing gear and/or operations. 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. To the extent that bycatch cannot be avoided, reducing bycatch is mandatory to the extent practicable while mortality of bycatch should be minimized. NMFS, rather than the Fishery Management Councils, has the responsibility to implement bycatch reduction management measures.

Development and testing of gear, bait, and operational methods to reduce incidental bycatch of sea turtles in pelagic longline fisheries targeting primarily swordfish, dolphinfish (mahi mahi) and tuna has taken place in all major oceans where sea turtle bycatch has been recorded. Countries involved in pelagic longline fishing with recorded sea turtle bycatch include Australia, Canada, European fleets in the Mediterranean Sea, the United States in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean (Hawaii-based longline fleet), Japan in the Atlantic, Pacific, and South China Sea, coastal countries in Central and South American and other fleets, including distant water fishing nations in the western and central Pacific Ocean. Of the 40 nations engaged in pelagic longline fishing, only a small proportion have observer programs that document sea turtle bycatch incidental to the swordfish and tuna longline fisheries, which results in substantial uncertainties in levels of bycatch and primary causes and locations of such bycatch (Beverly and Chapman 2007). .

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) PIFSC FSBAD has been involved with testing modified gear, bait, methods, and other factors in Atlantic and Pacific fisheries in compliance with the Magnuson- Stevens Act (MSA) and, as a researcher, governmental cooperator and/or a member of various international organizations, in foreign fisheries for many years to reduce sea turtle bycatch. In recent years, NMFS has assumed a leadership role in sea turtle conservation worldwide and has dedicated significant resources to research programs intended to find ways to reduce takes of sea turtles in U.S. and foreign fisheries and transfer of effective technologies to foreign fleets (Section 2.1.2).

Research conducted by NMFS has included laboratory-based turtle physiological and behavioral responses in relation to longline gear, bait, and methodologies (NMFS 2007) and field research and studies in both domestic and foreign pelagic longline fisheries (Section 2.1.2). Effectiveness of methodologies and gear is defined in terms of substantial reductions in bycatch of sea turtles with little to no corresponding decrease in catch of target species and associated revenues. If


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