This post was co-authored with Elizabeth Brown.
Starting January 1, fishing within two bluefin tuna breeding hotspots in the Gulf of Mexico with a particularly destructive kind of fishing gear during their peak breeding months (April-May) will be prohibited by federal rule. The technique uses fishing lines up to 40 miles long with hundreds of baited hooks. It’s called long-lining. Finally, half a century after this method was used to invade their breeding grounds and deplete them to remnants of their former abundance, bluefin tuna that come to the Gulf of Mexico to breed will have a safe haven. The new rule will also prohibit longline fishing for five months (Dec.-April) in an area off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where bluefin gather to feed.
Ironically, intentional fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna with longline gear has been prohibited in the U.S. for years. Despite this, bluefin tuna have continued getting caught by longline fishing gear. Fishermen use longlines to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish. But the gear is very indiscriminate, incidentally catching high number of bluefin each year and many other non-target species (sharks, sea turtles, marlins).
Longline fishermen catch much of this bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, where bluefin have come to breed, and in a few other hotspot areas where bluefin gather at certain times of the year. This incidental catch has contributed to the decline of this species. And it is particularly harmful in the Gulf of Mexico, because the Gulf is their only known breeding area on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.