Billfish Conservation Under Assault

Posted on May 08, 2007

HOUSTON, TX – Conservationists are expressing concern over a recent course of action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that could significantly roll back and delay conservation measures for threatened billfish stocks. NMFS has elected to delay a regulation requiring circle hooks for billfish tournaments until 2008 and is considering allowing longlingers into conservation zones that have been closed to industrial fishing since 2001.

“These actions are sending exactly the wrong message. We are very concerned about the lack of leadership displayed by NMFS on these matters,” said David Cummins, CCA president.
The circle hook requirement had found almost universal acceptance among anglers and tournament organizers during a series of public hearings over the past year. The decision to delay the rule was based apparently on the objection of a single tournament in North Carolina.
“There are a number of conservation-minded tournaments that are going to require circle hooks anyway in spite of NMFS’ position. CCA strongly encourages anyone participating in a billfish tournament to employ circle hooks immediately as delaying this regulation until 2008 will likely kill hundreds of white marlin and other threatened species for absolutely no good reason,” said Pat Murray, CCA director of conservation.
The proposal to allow longliners into conservation zones closed to such fishing activity since 2001 is currently being considered by NMFS. It would allow for 13 vessels to fish longlines in conservation zones off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, ostensibly to test the efficacy of circle hooks for reducing bycatch of juvenile swordfish, billfish, turtles and species of shark. 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.
“That information can already be gathered throughout the areas currently open to this gear where the use of circle hooks has been mandated,” said Fred Miller, chairman of CCA’s Government Relations Committee. “This is merely an effort to allow vessels that are currently fishing into the conservation zones to target swordfish under the guise of a bycatch study. CCA is against any proposal that may significantly increase fishing impacts, possibly reversing the tremendous gains seen in the recreational swordfish and other billfish populations.”
CCA has registered concerns over both measures with NMFS and is asking the agency to take a more proactive stance with regard to its management of billfish. The significant improvements to swordfish populations and other highly migratory species in the South Atlantic waters are very likely the result of the fishing restrictions that have been implemented.
“The recreational community has worked for years to reverse the decline of billfish stocks, and the battle is far from over,” said Cummins. “We don’t need NMFS to focus its efforts on reversing the gains we’ve made so far. We need NMFS to take its stewardship role seriously and live up to the expectations of the millions of people who care about our marine resources.”
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH