California Coastal Commission Rejects Experimental Longline Sowrdfish Permit

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Posted by on September 04, 2007 at 17:36:51:

On 10 August the California Coastal Commission rejected a request by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to issue an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for an experimental long line fishery for swordfish within the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) three to two hundred miles off the coast of California. The permit would have allowed one boat operator, Peter Dupuy, up to four fishing trips from 15 September 2007 to December 2007 with an observer on board at all times. The purpose of the experiment would have been to determine if long lines would have been a superior alternative to drift gill nets, which are currently in use off the coast of California, for catching swordfish while reducing bycatch of leatherback turtles and marine mammals.

In their request NMFS acknowledged that "[l]ong line fishing is clearly preferable to drift gill when it comes to marine mammals; comparisons for turtles are not so clear." Several environmental groups, including the Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Ocean Conservancy and Oceana, vehemently opposed the EFP, fearing that it would open the door to a permanent long line fishery off the California coast and imperil the endangered leatherback turtle, which migrates from New Guinea to the waters off the coast of California and Oregon. Environmental advocates favor a harpoon fishery for swordfish which has virtually no bycatch, but according to fishermen, including Peter Dupuy, is no longer an economically viable way to fish for swordfish.

NFMS can appeal the decision and if it does Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez could override the decision and issue the permit. However, the issuance of the permit could get tied up in judicial wrangling as groups who oppose the permit could sue in federal court under the Coastal Zone Management Act. An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, Brendan Cummings, has vowed to take this step if the permit is issued.

Fishing advocates regard the Coastal Commissionís decision as a lost opportunity to develop a fishery for swordfish that could reduce levels of bycatch of both turtles and marine mammals. They cite the use of circle hooks and that the fishery would include, like the current drift gill net fishery, outside observers on board at all times. For a 9 August Jane Kay article in The San Francisco Chronicle go to sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/08/09/BA49RFALQ.DTL. For a copy of NFMS EFP request go to documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2007/8/F4e-8-2007.pdf.

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