Responding to the Department of Commerce's proposal that would place restrictions on aerial fish spotters, AOPA has sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans requesting that the administration review its position. The department proposed retaining a provision included in last year's Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations Act prohibiting the use of Department of Commerce funds for the issuance or renewal of harpoon category permits for aircraft involved in Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing. The provision's intent was to level the playing field among fishery participants.
"Aerial fish spotters have been a safe and beneficial segment of the fishing industry for more than 30 years," AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote. "However, as the numbers of fisherman have increased and the fishing has become more competitive, so has the push to eliminate this element of the industry."
The National Marine Fisheries Service also has proposed a comprehensive ban on aerial fish spotting, but this rule has not yet been finalized.
AOPA is working with environmental and conservation groups who have defended the use of spotter aircraft.
"Both the impending ruling by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the retention of the language included in last year's Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations Act provide for the elimination of a legitimate industry through legislation," Boyer wrote.
Spotter aircraft play a crucial role in reducing discard and discard mortality by directing fisherman away from undersized tuna.