Victory! New Policy Will Protect Atlantic Bluefin Tuna From Longlines

The population of the mighty Atlantic bluefin tuna has plummeted 64 percent since its already-depleted 1970 level. Overfishing is one of the biggest culprits, a trend driven in part by the high demand for sashimi and sushi. But the use of longlines is also a huge contributor to the problem. Most countries have been slow to do anything about it.

Now the U.S. is stepping up.

Beginning in January 2015, a new rule will help prevent Atlantic bluefin tuna, as well as approximately 80 other types of marine wildlife, from unnecessarily dying on surface longlines, fishing gear that is intended primarily for yellowfin tuna and swordfish.

Under current rules, many of the bluefin just end up getting killed and discarded back into the sea.

Restricting Longline Fishing

On December 2, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) finalized a major new policy, one that has taken years to put together, to limit certain types of longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, a key spawning ground for the western group of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Specifically, NOAA is restricting the use of surface longlines around the Gulf of Mexico and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during the April and May spawning season. This is a time when huge numbers of bluefin gather together. Instead, fishermen will have to use alternative gear (like green sticks and buoy gear) that tend to be monitored more frequently, so as to minimize unintended catches.

Conservation groups hailed the NOAA rule as a huge leap forward.

“NOAA Fisheries deserves great praise for significantly increasing protections for bluefin while allowing fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue,” said Lee Crockett, director of U.S. ocean conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “This historic action will help western Atlantic bluefin tuna rebuild to healthy levels.”

Bluefin tuna should command everyone’s respect. They can grow to the size of a small car, are able to dive deeper than 4.000 feet, and in their struggle to stay free, have brought many a fisherperson to their knees. These “superfish” make transoceanic migrations and can live up to 40 years.

What Are Longlines?

Longlines are bad news. A longline is a fishing line usually made of monofilament with a length of one to 40 miles. Every hundred or so feet, there is a secondary line attached extending down about 16 feet. This secondary line is hooked and baited with squid or fish.

The lines are set adrift from vessels for a period of 12 to 24 hours. Because they’re so vast, they tend to catch a lot of things unintentionally.

Bluefin tuna are not the only victims; the baited hooks also can be seen by albatross from the air and when they dive on the hooks, they are caught and they drown. One conservative calculation for albatross killed on Japanese longliners is 44,000 per year, although the actual number may be far greater.

Sharks and turtles are also destroyed by the thousands through the use of longlines.

Ensuring that surface longlines are not used when and where bluefin gather in great numbers to spawn and feed will dramatically reduce the amount needlessly caught and killed.

This amendment also establishes a new annual limit on the incidental catch of bluefin on surface longlines and 100 percent electronic monitoring of the surface longline fleet. Thanks to these and other changes, the agency will now be able to hold individual surface longline vessels accountable for their bluefin bycatch.

The U.S. has begun the fight to save bluefin tuna. Will the rest of the world follow suit?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

53 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

Thanks for posting

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I can't imagine all the wasted sea life when it comes down to a 40 mile longline. That is absurd. As others have said I hope this is not too late.

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Better late than never, both the sake of both the fish and the human

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Claire Panman-van der Mee
Claire P2 years ago

Good news. Now world wide!

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Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer3 years ago

Longlines, gillnets - all manner of scooping up vast numbers of wildlife for the profits of greedy humans - must be disallowed! I know; it's someone's livelihood, but then, so is tobacco farming, and drug dealing.

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Angev GERIDONI
Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

★ ★ ★ GREAT NEWS ★ ★ ★

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M.N. J.
M.N. J3 years ago

I wish we could ban longline fishing outright. I hope this good news doesn't come too late for the bluefin.

I mean, yippee and hurray!

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Fred L.
Fred L3 years ago

Nice new rule, I hope they have the resources to enforce it. It would be nice if long-line fishing was banned, but I think Big Fishing has too many lobbyists buying too many legislators.

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Dianne D.
Dianne D3 years ago

finally some good news

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