Longliners slaughter stripes
LONGLINE boats operating on the NSW South Coast have zeroed in on game fishermen enjoying a rare run of good fishing and slaughtered hundreds, possibly thousands, of striped marlin. Pictures and video circulating on the internet show longliners setting their lines and hauling in dead marlin as shocked anglers look on.
The longline issue is one that’s caused significant uproar and controversy in sport and gamefishing circles in recent years. A deal brokered with the previous Liberal Government, the commercial industry and the Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA) was supposed to have resulted in a “gentleman’s agreement” limiting longlining activity in and around the continental shelf line. Sources in government fisheries circles say this deal essentially did nothing to prevent longliners targeting marlin and was simply a stop-gap measure aimed at delaying any real progress.
Some pundits have blamed the Rudd Labor Government for failing to honour payments compensating the longliners for their access limitations. Other sources say the longliners reneged on the deal before Labor took power federally. “It’s wrong to blame the federal Labor Government for the collapse of the so-called gentlemen’s agreement. They inherited years of inaction (on the longlining issue) by the Coalition,” one senior source told Fishing World.
Speculation amongst game fishermen is that as many as 5,000 striped marlin, along with unknown numbers of “protected” blue and black marlin caught as by-catch, have been taken by vessels operating along the NSW South Coast. It is unlikely that this many fish have been taken, fisheries scientists Fishing World spoke with today say, stating the numbers would be in the hundreds, not thousands.
“It is important to try and separate fact from fiction re actual catches of striped marlin when these incidents occur,” one senior fisheries scientist said. “I recall last time, when similar numbers were being bandied about (5000-6000 fish caught in short time), the Australian Fisheries Management Authority reported that the numbers were nothing like this; more like 600. Looking at the striped marlin issue objectively, it is clear that the great majority of the annual catch (which in 2007 was 304 tonnes or 3700 fish, and for 2008 about 325 tonnes, or 4100 fish) is taken by the Mooloolaba fleet in southern Queensland. However, the interaction issue is off the South Coast of NSW when these sorts of mass catches occur, and no doubt, localised depletions follow. That’s where the efforts should be going to solve the problem, and obviously efforts to date have been less than successful.”
It seems likely that “localised depletions” of marlin have occurred in NSW South Coast waters in the past few days. Multiple game boats seeing up to 20 fish a day before the longliners shot their lines now report seeing none or just a couple of scattered fish. Unverified reports claim one longliner working south of Jervis Bay caught 85 marlin in one shot while another boat reportedly put 486 marlin through the markets in three days.
Federal Fisheries Minister Tony Burke is responsible for the management of the East Coast Tuna and Billfish fishery and various fishing identities have told Fishing World that this issue should immediately be referred to Minister’s Burke’s newly formed recreational fishing advisory panel.
“This longlining controversy presents the perfect opportunity to use the ‘precautionary principle’ which requires action to prevent possible damage even without full scientific justification,” one senior recreational fishing spokesman said.
“Maybe we should ask Minister Burke to call for a public enquiry or similar to get all the views out on the table and resolve the issue before next season, otherwise it will just drag on and on again.”
The targeting of billfish by commercial operators is also the focus of attention overseas. The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) has funded a study into the international billfish market and also recently launched a campaign to end the commercial exploitation of billfish.
“IGFA, along with several other organisations, will be using this information to mount an aggressive campaign to ban the sale and importation of billfish in the United States,” an IGFA spokesman said.
“The US billfish market just doesn’t make sense and it’s time we made the American public aware of it. IGFA will be using every available angle to get marlin and sailfish out of grocery stores and off of restaurant menus. It won’t be easy, but we believe it is necessary.”
Find out more about the IGFA billfish campaign at http://www.igfa.org/billfish_campaign.asp.
Fishing World supports the idea of a similar campaign in Australian waters and urges groups such as the GFAA, ANSA and RecFish to fund and implement a strategy to educate the Australian public of the urgent need to protect all billfish from commercial exploitation.
In the meantime, you can let Minister Burke know what you think of the longlining of marlin by contacting his office on Tel: (02) 6277 7520, Fax: (02) 6273 4120 or Email: Tony.Burke.MP@aph.gov.au