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Fisheries Plans Migratory Species Permit

The National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plans to implement a new Caribbean Small Boat Commercial Permit for fishing of what it terms “highly migratory species.” These include bigeye, albacore, yellowfin, and skipjack tunas, Atlantic swordfish and Atlantic sharks.

The new rule would cover fishing and the sale by fishermen of those species in local Caribbean markets.

“It would better meet the needs of fishermen in the U.S. Caribbean where the culture is direct sell,” said Randy Blankinship, a fisheries management specialist at the Fisheries Service, from his Florida office.

Currently, fishermen are supposed to sell their tuna, swordfish and shark catches to a permitted dealer for resale to customers. While there are two permitted dealers each in St. Thomas and St. Croix, Blankinship acknowledged that contrary to regulations, fishermen probably do sell directly to customers.

This has led to fewer Caribbean fishermen and vessels obtaining required permits and reporting data needed for effective fisheries management. The new rule would bring them into compliance.

Carlos Farchette, a St. Croix resident who serves as chairman of the Caribbean Fishery Management Committee, agreed and said that some fishermen do sell directly to customers rather than through dealers. He said the new permit was a good thing.

On the mainland, fishermen sell to dealers because they’re required by NOAA regulations to do so, Blankinship said.

There would be no limit on the number of Highly Migratory Species Caribbean Small Boat Commercial Permits issued, Blankinship said.

“But they would be valid only in the U.S. Caribbean,” he added.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, there are additional reasons for creating the new highly migratory species permit. According to a Fisheries Service newsletter, the reasons are limited fishing and dealer permits, smaller vessels, limited availability of processing and cold storage facilities, shorter trips, limited profit margins and high local consumption of catches.

These differences can sometimes create an awkward fit between current federal highly migratory species fishery regulations applicable to the whole Atlantic fishery and the traditional operation of Caribbean fisheries.

The proposed management measures include specific authorized species and retention limits, modification of reporting requirements, authorization of specific gears, vessel size restrictions and consideration of mandatory workshop training.

Blankinship said initially the catch limit, which the Fisheries Service calls retention limits, for shark would be set at zero.

“Some shark populations aren’t healthy,” Blankinship said.

If shark fishing was allowed, dealers would have to attend an identification workshop.

There are several alternatives, but Blankinship said the preferred alternative for tuna would be set at 10 per trip per vessel. The preferred alternative for swordfish would be set at two per trip per vessel.

As for gear, the preferred alternative for tuna fishing would be hand held gear including rod and reel, hand line, harpoon, bandit gear, green stick gear and buoy gear. Blankinship said buoy gear is usually called yoyo gear in the Virgin Islands.

The preferred alternative for swordfish fishing would be rod and reel, hand line, harpoon, bandit gear and buoy, or yoyo, gear. If shark fishing is allowed, the preferred alternative would be rod and reel, hand line and bandit gear.

Blankinship said the preferred alternative for vessel length would be less than 45 feet.

Additionally, the Fisheries Service proposes to stipulate that this permit could not be held in combination with any other highly migratory species permit.

The Fisheries Service wants public input by June 14. Blankinship said he expects the rule to be in place by the end of the year. He said that dates have not been set for public hearings on the proposed rule, but they would be held.

To comment, visit www.regulations.gov, fax to 301-713-1917 or mail to Margo Schulze-Haugen, 1315 East-West Highway, NMFS/SF1, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

For more on the proposed rule, visit www.https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/03/16/2012-6455/highly-migratory-species-2006-consolidated-highly-migratory-species-fishery-management-plan.

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