NOAA 99R104
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gordon Helm
1/25/99

NOAA ANNOUNCES PUBLIC HEARINGS, AND EXTENDS COMMENT PERIOD FOR MANAGEMENT PLAN PROPOSAL TO PROTECT OVERFISHED ATLANTIC BILLFISH, SWORDFISH, SHARKS AND TUNAS

A series of public hearings to gather comments regarding the protection and rebuilding of Atlantic billfish, swordfish, sharks and tunas will be held from Maine to Texas beginning Feb. 3 and ending March 4, 1999. The public comment period for two fishery management plans for those highly migratory marine species has been extended through March 4, 1999, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.

The proposals address overfished Atlantic billfish and swordfish, Western Atlantic bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna, and large coastal shark stocks. They are a draft amendment to the Atlantic billfish fishery management plan, a draft highly migratory species fishery management plan for Atlantic swordfish, Atlantic tunas and Atlantic sharks, and a proposed rule covering both draft documents. An addendum to the draft fishery management plan that covers Atlantic bluefin tuna, along with a supplement to the proposed rule, will be released shortly to address the Atlantic bluefin tuna rebuilding plan and other management measures.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking comment from fishermen, conservationists and other interested members of the public on the draft proposals. A list of public hearings that have been scheduled in fishing communities from Maine to Texas is available to the media by fax, or on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.gov/sfa/prorules.html
The proposed rule is also available on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.gov/sfa/hms/hmspg.html

The public comment period for the proposals has been extended, and public comment will be accepted through March 4, 1999. Written comments can be sent to: Rebecca Lent, Chief, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Md. 20910, or can be sent by fax at (301) 713-1917.

The 1988 Atlantic Billfish Fishery Management Plan banned commercial fishermen from landing billfish. In 1997, members of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas adopted a recommendation that required all countries to reduce landings of blue and white marlin by at least 25 percent and to improve data collection. The Atlantic Tunas Convention Act requires the United States to implement the ICCAT recommendations. U.S. participation in this international body is necessary to rebuild billfish because even if U.S. fishermen were to totally eliminate mortality of billfish, additional measures by other ICCAT members would be necessary to rebuild billfish stocks.

The Atlantic billfish fishery management plan contains measures to comply with the ICCAT recommendations as well as precautionary measures to comply with Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requirements.
The draft billfish amendment and the highly migratory species fishery management plans address bycatch issues as well, including longline bycatch of billfish.

The draft fishery management plan for Atlantic highly migratory species including billfish, swordfish, tunas and sharks was developed by the Fisheries Service to rebuild highly migratory species identified as overfished. The draft plan was completed with help from an advisory panel composed of fishermen, scientists, regional fishery management councils, state officials and conservationists.