Marlin slaughter to continue

Comment by Fishing World editor Jim Harnwell

It appears likely that longlining for striped marlin along the east coast will continue into the foreseeable future, with the iconic gamefish to be included in a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) process by 2011, Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA) president Grahame Williams has said.
In an email sent to Fishing World today, Williams said: “Striped marlin do not have a quota currently. The entire ETBF longline fishery will go to quota (TAC) in 2011. At that time striped marlin will be allocated a TAC based on the Harvest Strategy numbers. The TAC will also take into account the game/rec mortality in the ETBF area.
“No other comments will be issued by me on this subject at this stage.”

In response to claims that the quota system was flawed and allowed excess catches and wastage, Williams said longliners were required to keep detailed logbooks and other records. “We are also given the numbers for each species and at what port they are landed so in the next month or so I will know the actual numbers taken down south instead of all the speculated numbers being thrown about at the moment.”

As detailed in our main story (run yesterday see in NEWS), recreational fishermen gamefishing off the NSW South Coast have reported longliners catching large numbers of striped marlin in and around the continental shelf region, which in some locations is less than 10 miles offshore.
The NSW South Coast is a flash point between gamefishermen and commercial operators because of the fishery is relatively close inshore. Other longline fisheries – like that off Mooloolaba in SE Queensland – are much further out and there is little, if any, interaction between commercial and recreational fishing boats. In other words, the slaughter is out of sight, out of mind.
Senior recreational fishing pundits have told Fishing World there is little point campaigning for an end to longlining for marlin.

“There is no point banging the drum calling for a complete ban on the commercial take of striped marlin (or having the species declared rec only – commendable as that might be) or calling for a complete ban on all longlining. This ‘no compromise’ approach will get us nowhere in the foreseeable future – if ever,” a senior rec fishing identity told Fisho.
A TAC or quota system would impact on gamefishing access to marlin as fish mortality – either from those kept by anglers or via some sort of statistical process relating to catch & release mortality figures – and could see limits imposed on the east coast game and sport fishing fleet.
In Fishing World’s view, this continuing striped marlin saga is pretty disappointing. It’s a complete joke that commercial fishing for apex marine predators like striped marlin is allowed. It’s a complete joke that the official strategy we have is to try and work in with the commercial sector, as Grahame Williams from the GFAA attempts to do, in the vain hope that they’ll throw us some scraps.
Past history makes me think the commercial operators won’t cede anything until either the last fish is caught or they get a nice big payout from the government.
What do we do then? Well, Mr Williams should keep talking with the commercial sector and the fisheries bureaucrats. If he comes up with anything positive, it’d be good to hear about it. In the meantime, the newly appointed advisory board to federal Fisheries Minister Tony Burke should carefully consider this issue and provide some no-nonsense advice to the Minister on how strongly Australian anglers feel about the continued commercial exploitation of marlin.
The advisory board should also look at ways the Minister can limit or reduce commercial exploitation of striped marlin. After all, this is a fish species we don’t know all that much about. Is it environmentally responsible to allow intensive commercial longlining for these fish? We don’t know really how many there are. Where do they breed? What do they do? No-one really knows. Perhaps the much-vaunted “precautionary principle” could be applied to this fishery? That is, prevent or limit commercial exploitation because we don’t know how much damage that exploitation is doing to the fishery.
Then there’s the economic and social aspects of the fishery. Studies prove striped marlin are far more valuable as a rec-only fishery than they are as a commercial target. Perhaps the Minister’s advisory board could research this issue and give Mr Burke the facts and figures so he can see for himself how much a striped marlin is worth dead on a longline hook and how much one is worth caught & released by an angler.
We should also follow the lead from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and instigate a public campaign to “Take Marlin Off The Menu”. Fisho spoke with IGFA conservation director Jason Schratwieser about this. IGFA is focusing its attention on the American market, the world’s biggest consumer of billfish, but there’s no reason why groups like GFAA, ANSA and RecFish Australia couldn’t develop a similar program over here. IGFA has done all the hard work – all we need to do is transpose their strategic and policy ideas into our local market. Fishing World will be very interested in what GFAA president Grahame Williams has to say about this sort of strategy. Would GFAA get behind such a campaign? If not, why not?
As a final point, there’s one really simple way the longlining of striped marlin could be significantly curtailed almost straight away. The NSW Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald could work with his federal counterpart to impose a ban or restriction on the gathering of livebait in NSW waters, thus effectively stopping the longliners from targeting marlin.
Minister Macdonald was reluctant to impose this sort of action back in 2007 when the longlining of stripes was again big news. This time a Labor Government is in power in Canberra. Surely a Labor State Government would be able to work more effectively with a federal Labor Government to help protect our striped marlin?

Fishing World realises and understands the bureaucratic, political and economic processes which influence the issue of commercial longlining for striped marlin. We appreciate the work of people like Mr Williams and all the other fishos who dedicate their time and effort to benefit our great sport. But that doesn’t mean we like what’s happening out there along the shelf line off Jervis Bay, Ulladulla, Bermagui and Eden. We don’t like the fact that there are longliners out there RIGHT NOW catching striped marlin, and probably blues and blacks as well. We don’t like it and we want it stopped. We here at Fisho believe the vast majority of anglers want longlining for marlin stopped. We’re going to continue to push for it to be stopped. If the actual number of marlin caught and killed by the longline fleet can be reduced and managed by a TAC system when it is introduced in 2011, well and good. But that doesn’t mean any of us should give up on the long-term goal of banning longlining for marlin.

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