New EIS To Be Prepared for Longline Fishery

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The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced its intention to prepare an environmental impact statement for the Hawai`i- and American Samoa-based deep-set longline tuna fishery and will be holding a series of public scoping meetings around the islands beginning February 21.

Michael Tosatto, administrator of NMFS’ Pacific Islands Regional Office, told Environment Hawai`i that there was no “trigger” or “new” federal action that prompted the decision to develop a new EIS. “Rather, I felt it appropriate to conduct a thorough analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the continued authorization of the deep-set longline fisheries,” he said. “We last completed a PEIS [programmatic environmental impact statement] on the deep-set fisheries in 2009 … and since then we have completed separate NEPA analyses (EAs) on the potential impacts of several [Fishery Ecosystem Plan] amendments and additional regulatory changes.”

The Federal Register notice, published February 13, notes that participation in the Hawai`i longline fisheries is limited to 164 vessels, of which about 140 are active. All but a handful of the vessels in the Hawai`i fishery are based in Honolulu, although about 10 operate from ports on the U.S. west coast. About 20 of the Hawai`i-permitted vessels also engage in the shallow-set fishery that targets swordfish. In 2014, the notice states, there were 1,350 deep-set trips and just 81 shallow-set trips.

The stated purpose of the programmatic EIS is “to maintain viable domestic deep-set tuna longline fisheries, while ensuring the long-term sustainability of fishery resources and the conservation of protected species and their habitats.”

Management provisions identified in the Federal Register notice include: limited entry/access programs; vessel size limits; mandatory permits and reporting of catch and effort; areas where fishing is prohibited; on-board observer monitoring; satellite-based monitoring; catch limits and prohibitions on the catch of some species; gear requirements; and methods for release of bycatch.

Public scoping meetings in Hawai`i will be held in Hilo and Honolulu, starting at 6 p.m.

Hilo: Tuesday, February 21, University of Hawai`i, Edith Kanakaole Hall, room 122;

Honolulu: Thursday, February 23, Nu`uanu Elementary School Cafeteria, 3055 Puiwa Lane.

Comments are being received by NMFS through April 4 and may be submitted in any one of the following manners. If commenting, be sure to refer to NMFS action: NOAA-NMFS-2017-0010.

Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0010, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Send written comments to Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

Scoping Meeting: Submit written comments at a scoping meeting.

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