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Press Release – Federal Managers Finalize Turtle Interaction Measures with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (9 August 2019)

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NMFS.

HONOLULU (9 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council met yesterday to amend the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan with revisions to the loggerhead and leatherback turtle mitigation measures for the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery. The amendment sets an annual fleet-wide hard cap limit on the number of leatherback turtle interactions at 16. An interaction occurs whenever a sea turtle becomes hooked or entangled in longline gear. Few interactions lead to serious injury or mortality of the animal, which is normally released unharmed. The Council did not recommend setting an annual fleet-wide hard cap for loggerheads in light of that species’ improving population trends and other mitigation measures, but the Council retains the authority to set a hard cap limit in the future if necessary.
 
To limit the impact of interactions on sea turtles and to promote year-round fishing opportunities, the Council further recommended the establishment of individual trip interaction limits of five loggerheads and two leatherback turtles. Once a vessel reaches either of these trip limits, the vessel is required to return to port, and will be prohibited from engaging in shallow-set longline fishing for five days after returning. This action is expected to allow sea turtle “hot spots” to disperse, while encouraging fishermen to take action to avoid sea turtle interactions before the trip limits are reached.
 
Additional restrictions set trip limits on each vessel – any vessel that reaches the trip limit twice for either leatherback or loggerhead sea turtles in a calendar year will be prohibited from shallow-set longline fishing for the remainder of that year. The following calendar year, these vessels will have an annual vessel limit equivalent to a single trip limit – either five loggerheads or two leatherbacks. These additional vessel restrictions are measures required under a new biological opinion (BiOp) prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
 
In the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee report, the Committee noted that in light of the BiOp finding that the fishery does not jeopardize the continued existence of these sea turtles, the additional restrictions are punitive and are not supported by the scientific information that the fishery has no adverse impacts to the overall loggerhead and leatherback populations.
 
NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto reminded the Council that it is their “mandate to minimize interactions with protected species…minimize means approach zero.”
 
“You’ve heard the expression barking up the wrong tree – we’re swimming in the wrong ocean,” said Council member Ed Watamura, pointing to the disproportionate impact that the Hawai’i fleet experiences from the US government’s strict regulations. With almost 100 percent of the incidentally hooked turtles returning to the ocean alive, the Hawai’i swordfish fishery has had negligible impact on the leatherback and loggerhead turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean, especially when considering the relative impacts from foreign fleets. Threats to loggerhead and leatherback turtles in other parts of the populations’ range include bycatch in artisanal and coastal fisheries in the Western Pacific, direct harvesting of eggs and adult turtles, nest predation by feral animals, beach nesting habitat alteration, and climate change.
 
The Council did not recommend setting a fleet-wide interaction limit for loggerhead turtles, recognizing that the status of the population has improved since the Council first recommended implementing hard caps for the shallow-set longline fishery in 2004. A recent population assessment of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles showed that the population is growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent, and the total is estimated at 340,000 individuals. Considering this population growth and the additional restrictions on trip limits, the Council found that the fleet-wide hard cap limit for loggerhead turtles is no longer necessary or appropriate to conserve the species.
 
Final action taken yesterday by the Council was a culmination of a nearly two-year process to improve measures for managing loggerhead and leatherback turtle interactions in the fishery that produces nearly half of the US domestic swordfish. The process was stalled for nearly a year due to NMFS’ delay in completing the new BiOp, which was originally scheduled to be completed in October 2018. The Council’s final recommendation will be forwarded to the Secretary of Commerce, followed by a rule making process including a public comment period.
 
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Council has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands.
 
For the meeting agenda and background materials, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info@wpcouncil.org or (808) 522-8220.
 
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai'i governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawai'i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai'i); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai'i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai'i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS. 
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Press Release – Federal Managers to Make Final Recommendations on Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Interactions with Hawai’i Swordfish Fishery (6 August 2019)

Leatherback sea turtle. Photo courtesy USFWS.

HONOLULU (6 August 2019) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will meet on Aug. 8, 2019, to consider final recommendations on the management of the Hawai’i swordfish fishery’s interactions with leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided a final biological opinion (BiOp) during the 178th Council meeting in June 2019 (originally due October 2018), but the Council deferred action at the time to allow adequate time to review the final BiOp.

The final BiOp determined that the swordfish fishery is not jeopardizing the continued existence of these sea turtles and authorizes the accidental hooking and subsequent release of 21 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. Based on observer data since 1994, 100 percent of leatherback turtles and over 99 percent of loggerhead turtles observed in this fishery have been released alive with a high chance of survival. Despite finding that the impacts of the fishery are not expected to appreciably reduce these two populations’ likelihood of surviving and recovering in the wild, the final BiOp requires additional measures to further reduce incidental captures and mortalities. Specifically, if the fleetwide leatherback interaction reaches the “hard cap” of 16, the BiOp requires that the fishery be closed for the remainder of the calendar year.

The final BiOp also requires implementing individual trip limits of two leatherback or five loggerhead interactions per vessel per trip. However, once a vessel reaches a trip limit twice in a year, it will be prohibited from shallow-set fishing for the remainder of the year, and the vessel will be subject to an annual vessel limit of 2 leatherbacks or 5 loggerheads for the following year. There is no hard cap required in the new BiOp for loggerhead turtles, which has a stable and increasing population.

Over the last five years in the North Pacific Ocean, approximately 99 million hooks were deployed overall in shallow-set longline fisheries annually (reported by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission). Of those, on average 1.2 million hooks (about 1 percent) are deployed annually by the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

“We know what the US shallow-set longline fishing impacts are on loggerheads and leatherbacks in the Pacific due to our 100 percent observer coverage,” remarked Council Chairman Archie Soliai. “When other countries are struggling to meet the internationally-required 5 percent observer coverage, how much confidence do we have about the loggerhead and leatherback impacts for the remaining 98 million hooks set?”

The Council’s recommendation from its 177th meeting in April 2019 was to manage the fishery under annual fleetwide hard cap limits of 16 leatherbacks and 36 loggerheads. The Council initially put the hard caps in place in 2004 as a backup measure when new bait and gear changes were implemented, which, along with other measures, reduced interactions by about 90 percent. The Council also recommended individual trip interaction limits of two leatherbacks and five loggerheads. Once either limit is reached, the vessel would be required to immediately return to port, after which they may resume shallow-set fishing. The original Council recommendations were much simpler and did not include additional vessel restrictions.

The Council will take all information into account, including the measures required under the final BiOp, when it considers final action this week.

The Council’s Hawai‘i Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan Advisory Panel (AP) and Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) will meet on Aug. 7, 2019, in advance of the Council meeting to discuss recommendations to the Council for the final action on managing loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the Hawai’i-based shallow-set longline fishery.

The AP, SSC and Council meetings can be attended remotely by web conference at: https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. The Council office will also serve as a meeting host site: 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu, Hawai’i. Council meeting documents available on our website (www.wpcouncil.org) include the Federal Register notice, Council meeting agenda, a summary of the action item, a draft amendment to the Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan, and the full Endangered Species Act BiOp from NMFS.

 Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai’i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS. 
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FR Notice – 2019 U.S. Territorial Longline Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Aug. 1, 2019)

ACTION: Announcement of a valid specified fishing agreement.

SUMMARY: NMFS announces a valid specified fishing agreement that allocates up to 1,000 metric tons (t) of the 2019 bigeye tuna limit for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to U.S. longline fishing vessels. The agreement supports the long-term sustainability of fishery resources of the U.S. Pacific Islands, and fisheries development in the CNMI.

DATES: The specified fishing agreement is valid on July 19, 2019.

ADDRESSES: The Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (Pelagic FEP) describes specified fishing agreements and is available from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu, HI 96813, tel 808–522–8220, fax 808–522–8226, or http://www.wpcouncil.org.

NMFS prepared environmental analyses that describe the potential impacts on the human environment that would result from the action. The analyses, identified by NOAA–NMFS–2019–0028, are available from https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAANMFS-2019-0028, or from Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rebecca Walker, NMFS PIRO Sustainable Fisheries, 808–725–5184.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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FR Notice – 2019 Bigeye Tuna Longline Fishery Closure (July 24, 2019)

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Temporary rule; fishery closure.

SUMMARY: NMFS is closing the U.S. pelagic longline fishery for bigeye tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean because the fishery has reached the 2019 catch limit. This action is necessary to ensure compliance with NMFS regulations that implement decisions of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

DATES: Effective 12:01 a.m. local time July 27, 2019, through December 31, 2019.

ADDRESSES: NMFS prepared a plain language guide and frequently asked questions that explain how to comply with this rule; both are available at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0085.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rebecca Walker, NMFS Pacific Islands Region, 808–725–5184.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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Request for Proposals -Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Project for Protected Species Impacts Assessment for Hawaii and American Samoa Longline Fisheries


The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Council) is soliciting proposals for a contractor to implement an ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) project for protected species impacts assessment for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries.

Proposals must be submitted and received at the Council office by Thursday, July 11, 2019, at 5pm Hawaii Standard Time.

Please see the full RFP for details on the scope of work, proposal requirements, and submission guidelines.

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Press Release – Hawai’i Longline Fishery for Swordfish Poses No Jeopardy to Sea Turtles, Federal Managers to Finalize Turtle Interaction Measures This Summer (27 June 2019)

Leatherback turtle. (NOAA photo).

HONOLULU (27 June 2019) A long-awaited final biological opinion (BiOp) on the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery was released today by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It shows the fishery does not jeopardize loggerhead or leatherback sea turtles.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has deferred making final recommendations on the management of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in the fishery three times since October 2018 as it awaited the final document. Today it again deferred action as the 500-page document was provided to them only 30 minutes before it took up this item on its agenda.


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FR Notice – Pacific Island Pelagic Fisheries: 2019 U.S. Territorial Longline Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits (Jun. 21, 2019)

Action

Proposed specifications; request for comments.

Summary

NMFS proposes a 2019 limit of 2,000 metric tons (t) of longline-caught bigeye tuna for each U.S. Pacific territory (American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)). NMFS would allow each territory to allocate up to 1,000 t each year to U.S. longline fishing vessels in a specified fishing agreement that meets established criteria. As an accountability measure, NMFS would monitor, attribute, and restrict (if necessary) catches of longline-caught bigeye tuna, including catches made under a specified fishing agreement. The proposed catch limits and accountability measures would support the long-term sustainability of fishery resources of the U.S. Pacific Islands.

Dates

NMFS must receive comments by June 21, 2019.


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Press Release – New Dates, Times for Meeting to Address Sea Turtles Interactions with Hawaii Longline Fishery for Sustainably Caught Swordfish (29 March 2019)

HONOLULU (29 March 2019)

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has announced that the Biological Opinion (BiOp) Review Advisory Panel meeting scheduled for April 2 and the 177th Council meeting scheduled to be held April 4 have been postponed. The new date and time for the BiOp Review Advisory Panel is April 12 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST). The agenda is review of the BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish. The new date for the Council meeting is April 12 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (HST) or noon to 3 p.m. Samoa Standard Time and April 13 from 9 a.m. to noon Chamorro Standard Time. The meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The Council will discuss the Draft BiOp for the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish as well as management of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle interactions in that fishery (final action).

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The Hawaii longline swordfish fishery closed on March 19 after it interacted with the 17th loggerhead turtle for the year. All of the turtles were released alive. The fishery has 100 percent observer coverage, i.e., a federal observer is on every vessel on every trip to monitor protected species interactions. This observer coverage level is extraordinary and an order of magnitude higher than other competing fishing nations. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission requirement is only 5 percent coverage, which most other nations have not met. The United States also operates with measures to reduce and report bycatch at levels that other fishing nations do not implement.
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“Closure of this healthy, underutilized fishery is not only an economic loss for the Hawaii fishery but also has no discernible stock conservation benefit for the Pacific,” notes Council Executive Director Kitty M. Simonds. “The catch from the Hawaii fleet will be supplanted by the catch from foreign fleets that have far less monitoring and bycatch mitigation.”
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The United States was usurped by Taiwan in the late 1990s as the second leading fishing nation to harvest North Pacific swordfish (Japan leads in landings) as US landings declined. The Hawaii fishery accounted for between 55 percent (2017 and 2008) to 34 percent (2012) of the US domestic swordfish landings.
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Projections of the stock through 2026 along with recommendations by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean determined that the stock is not fully utilized and could withstand a significant, yet sustainable increase in harvest. Such an increase in harvest of about 50 percent from recent catches to near maximum sustainable yield would maintain a healthy stock.
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The North Pacific swordfish stock was assessed in 2018 and determined to be nearly double spawning stock biomass at maximum sustainable yield (87 percent over SSBMSY) with fishing mortality determined to be less than half of fishing mortality at maximum sustainable yield (45 percent of FMSY). Spawning stock biomass has increased nearly by 10,000 metric tons since 2000 and has not breached below its commonly used biological reference point (SSBMSY) in any year in the stock’s assessment timeline (1975-2016). The stock had only been considered to be experiencing overfishing (breaching FMSY) in 1993.
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Lack of supply from the sustainable Hawaii shallow-set fishery may increase pressure on other swordfish stocks to meet market demands. This may have inadvertent consequences to stocks, such as those in the Atlantic, that are not as healthy as the North Pacific stock.
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The BiOp Review Advisory Panel meeting will be held by teleconference and webinar. The host site is the Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu. The teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220. The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov.
The 177th Council meeting teleconference number is US toll free (888) 482-3560 or international access +1 (647) 723-3959; the access code is 5228220.
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The webinar url is https://wprfmc.webex.com/join/info.wpcouncilnoaa.gov. Host sites are a) Council office, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 1400, Honolulu; b) Native American Samoa Advisory Council Office Conference Rm., Pava’ia’i Village, Pago Pago, American Samoa; c) Guam Hilton Resort and Spa, 202 Hilton Rd., Tumon Bay, Guam; and d) Department of Land and Natural Resources Conference Rm., Lower Base Dr., Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
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For the agendas and background materials on the meetings, go to www.wpcouncil.org or contact the Council at info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or (808) 522-8220.
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The Council was established by Congress in 1976 and has authority over fisheries seaward of state waters of Hawai’i, Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI and the Pacific remote islands. Recommendations that are regulatory in nature are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and then implemented by that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and enforced by NMFS and the US Coast Guard.
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Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Christinna Lutu-Sanchez, commercial fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Dean Sensui, Hawaii Goes Fishing (Hawaii) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawaii); McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing (CNMI); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawaii). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources; Matt Sablan, Guam Department of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasra, American Samoa Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Department of State; Brian Peck, USFWS.
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FR Notice – Closure of the 2019 Hawaii Shallow-Set Pelagic Longline Fishery (March 28, 2019)

SUMMARY: This final rule closes the Hawaii shallow-set pelagic longline fishery north of the Equator for all vessels registered under the Hawaii longline limited access program. The shallow-set fishery has reached the annual limit of 17 physical interactions with North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, so NMFS must close the fishery for the remainder of the calendar year, or until further notice. This action is necessary to comply with regulations that establish maximum annual limits on the numbers of interactions that occur between longline fishing gear and sea turtles.

DATES: Effective March 27, 2019, through December 31, 2019. Compliance date: 9:50 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HST) on March 19, 2019, through December 31, 2019.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Harman, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office, 808–725–5170.

Click here for complete FR Notice.

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FR Notice – 2018 U.S. Territorial Longline Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Nov. 7, 2018)

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
ACTION: Announcement of a valid specified fishing agreement.

SUMMARY: NMFS announces a valid specified fishing agreement that allocates up to 1,000 metric tons (t) of the 2018 bigeye tuna limit for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to identified U.S. longline fishing vessels. The agreement supports the long-term sustainability of fishery resources of the U.S. Pacific Islands, and fisheries development in the CNMI.
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