Retrospective analysis of combined effects of amendment 31 regulations upon effective effort impacting sea turtle takes in the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Bottom Longline Fishery
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Retrospective analysis of combined effects of amendment 31 regulations upon effective effort impacting sea turtle takes in the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Bottom Longline Fishery

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    In 2009, analyses of Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) observer program data indicated the number of loggerhead sea turtle takes authorized in the 2005 Biological Opinion (BiOp) by the bottom longline component of the reef fish fishery in the Gulf of Mexico were exceeded (SEFSC 2009). Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA requires all federal agencies to ensure any action authorized, funded, or carried out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or to result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species. Additionally, National Standard 9 (NS9) of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) requires that conservation and management measures, to the extent practicable, minimize bycatch and to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch. In response to these mandates, per the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council)’s request, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a temporary emergency rule on May 1, 2009 (74 FR 20229). Effective May 18, 2009, through October 28, 2009, the rule prohibited the use of bottom longline gear to harvest reef fish east of 85° 30’W longitude in waters less than 50 fathoms until the 2009 deepwater grouper and tilefish quotas were met, and in water of all depths east of 85° 30’W longitude thereafter. In the rule, NMFS specified that if it determined that less restrictive measures would suffice to adequately reduce turtle takes by the longline component of the reef fish fishery, NMFS could rescind the closure before the 180- day effective period of the emergency rule was reached and potentially implement less restrictive measures. Subsequent to the expiration of the emergency rule, the Gulf Council finalized Amendment 31 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan (RF31) to implement conservation and management measures that minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality of sea turtles (Gulf Council 2010).
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