Council Foils Backdoor Bid by Commercial Fishing Industry

Fisheries management council thwarts commercial industry efforts to exploit Atlantic pelagic species

Posted on June 18, 2007

KEY WEST, FL - The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted last week to recommend that the National Marine Fisheries Service deny an application to allow pelagic longline fishing boats into conservation zones off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida that have been closed to this destructive commercial fishing gear since 2001.

Coastal Conservation Association vehemently opposed the request by the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association to use exempted fishing permits (EFP) to test the efficacy of circle hooks on longlines for reducing bycatch in established conservation zones. Longline vessels unspool a main line up to 50 miles in length into the ocean armed with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks. The indiscriminate gear often results in the capture and death of non-targeted and threatened species.
 
“This is merely an attempt to allow vessels to target swordfish in the conservation zones under the guise of a bycatch study,” said Fred Miller, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The South Atlantic Council should be commended for seeing through this ploy and voting to ensure that the gains made so far to reverse the decline of billfish stocks are left intact.”
 
CCA has registered concerns over the proposal with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and has asked the agency to take a pro-conservation stance with regard to its management of billfish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission also opposes the EFP application, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has sent a letter to Dr. Bill Hogarth, director of NMFS, requesting that the agency deny the request.
 
The significant improvement to swordfish populations and other highly migratory species in South Atlantic waters is very likely the result of the fishing restrictions that have been implemented since 2001.
 
“Information on how well circle hooks reduce bycatch can already be gathered throughout the areas currently open to this gear, where the use of circle hooks has been mandated,” said Pat Murray, CCA vice president and director of conservation. “This request is a quasi-scientific attempt to circumvent the Council’s fishery management process. The recreational community has worked for years to reverse the decline of billfish stocks and clearly the battle is far from over. We must remain vigilant against this kind of scheme.”
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH