Conservation Zones Spared

National Marine Fisheries Service denies request to open key conservation areas to commercial longlines

Posted on August 13, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC - Conservationists are hailing a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to deny a request to allow longline fishing boats into conservation zones off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida that have been closed to the destructive commercial fishing gear since 2001.

The request to open these established conservation zones, known as an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP), was proposed by the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association purportedly as a way to test the efficacy of circle hooks on longlines for reducing bycatch. Coastal Conservation Association actively opposed the request, citing it as a blatant attempt to allow vessels to target swordfish in conservation zones under the guise of a bycatch study. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also opposed the EFP application, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist followed by sending a letter to Dr. Bill Hogarth, director of NMFS, requesting that the agency deny the request.

“The Atlantic Ocean is a big place, and there are lots of places to test gear other than an established conservation zone that was created to prevent billfish and other highly migratory species from being subjected to longline gear in the first place,” said Fred Miller, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The acceptable level of bycatch in this instance is zero, and we commend NMFS for denying this request.”
In issuing its denial, however, NMFS left open the possibility of considering a revised request in the future to study the effectiveness of circle hooks on longlines to reduce bycatch of juvenile swordfish, billfish, turtles and species of shark.
“In general, we are supportive of any effort by the commercial longline industry to reduce the indiscriminate destruction of non-targeted and threatened species which is inherent in its operations,” said David Cummins, CCA president. “Efforts like this to reduce bycatch are a long time coming for the longline industry, but they lose all credibility when the industry uses it as a pretense to fish in a conservation zone. Circle hooks can be studied in the areas they currently fish. To say they need to try them in protected areas is laughable. We will oppose any effort to allow longliners into those conservation zones under any circumstances.” 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH