NOAA Agents Seize Illegal Bluefin Tuna

Wednesday, August 14, 2002
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) Office for Law Enforcement has seized a catch of 71 undersized Atlantic bluefin tuna onboard a commercial scallop vessel in violation of regulations governing both size and number of fish. The vessel owner is subject to civil penalties between $1,000 and $40,000 and/or permit sanctions of between 10 and 30 days. On August 3, 2002, a Virginia Marine Patrol officer boarded the fishing vessel Kimberly and Kathryn, a commercial scallop vessel, to monitor an offload of scallops. While monitoring the offload, a large number of tuna were observed to be on board the vessel. The tuna were initially identified as yellowfin tuna by the vessel skipper, John P. Jones, but were given a preliminary identification of bluefin tuna by a United States Coast Guard officer. The NOAA Office for Law Enforcement was then contacted for assistance in identifying the tuna species being landed, and a NOAA Fisheries Special Agent immediately responded to the scene for an assessment. NOAA Agent Steven Niemi positively identified the offloaded tuna as bluefin. The legal commercial landing limit for bluefin tuna is currently two per vessel, with a minimum commercial size limit of 73 inches curved fork length. None of the bluefin landed by the commercial scallop vessel were of legal size, causing the entire load of bluefin tuna to be seized. The majority of the bluefin tuna landed were from the school and large school size class, with a average weight of the bluefin tuna being approximately 54 pounds head-off weight. "The skipper was distraught over the mistake, he was visibly shaken" said Special Agent Niemi. "These mistakes are difficult for everyone involved, but it is imperative that the fisherman is able to correctly identify exactly what he is catching and retaining on board the vessel," Niemi said. The 71 seized bluefin tuna were commercially undersized and not saleable. The Virginia Marine Patrol and the US Coast Guard provided assistance to NOAA Agents Niemi and Logan Gregory in preparing the 3,824 pounds of bluefin tuna for donation to the Foodbank of Southeastern Shore, where it will be distributed locally to the needy and hungry. "At least the bluefin tuna will be used in a positive way by going to those within our community who are in need," Niemi said.
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