Take Marlin Off The Menu – latest update

IN response to Fisho’s recent campaign to influence restaurants to take unsustainable marlin off their menus, an anonymous reader concerned about striped marlin sustainability contacted us after first sending an email to the Sydney Fish Markets – the focus of our last development on this story (details here).

While the response from the SFM is fairly long winded we reprint it in full to highlight what Fisho believes are some gaping holes in the argument for the continued marketing of striped marlin – in particular in relation to claimed rec fishing pressure on supposed marlin spawning aggregations …

As always, we would love to hear your views.

Response from Sydney Fish Markets:

Thank you for your email dated 23 March 2011, regarding the sustainability of Striped Marlin.

The operating environment for Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd (SFM) is dominated by Sydney’s rapidly increasing demand for quality seafood for health, lifestyle and business (including tourism) reasons plus increasing local, national and global pressures on, and competition for, environmentally challenged seafood resources. We are acutely aware of our responsibility to provide leadership in projecting the domestic and global image of Sydney as an ocean and harbour foreshore city that sustainably provides access to the range and quality of seafood expected of one of the world’s great coastal cities.

The firm commitment of SFM to the sustainability of the products we promote is clearly defined in our Sustainability Principles, a copy of which I have attached for your information.

It is for these reasons SFM is actively working with government agencies, leading experts in fisheries management and OceanWatch Australia Ltd to ensure the sustainability of our seafood supplies. We are however, fish marketers and not a fisheries management agency. Australian governments, both Commonwealth and State and Australia’s commercial fishers licensed by these governments, expect that we will continue to market the full range of fish species that is legitimately caught in accordance with relevant government fisheries management programs. Our role in the management of individual fish species is purely advisory. We do however take advantage of our privileged position as observers at numerous fisheries management meetings to promote the critical need for conservation of all our aquatic resources.

SFM believes that all fish deserve respect and protection, not just “the world’s great game-fish”. All Australian seafood consumers are entitled to access to the greatest possible range of species that are harvested sustainably from our waters. It is imperative that each and every species and the ecosystems that support them are respected and managed for both current and future generations.

SFM also works closely with the leaders of the recreational fishing sector to champion sustainability and seafood security and also for continued access to resources for both sectors. We firmly believe in the proper sharing of resources in accordance with the best scientific and social evidence. More than 95% of Australians eat seafood and they have a definite preference for fish that is taken in the waters of this country. But, as you would be aware only 20% of Australians are recreational fishers. It is important to keep these figures in mind when considering the proper allocation of resources between user groups. The recreational catch of fish in Australia is now well in excess of 20% of the total catch.

Noting your particular concern for Striped Marlin and other iconic species we would like to point out that this is the only Marlin species that can be targeted by the Australian commercial sector and yet Black and Blue Marlin, which are both more seriously depleted, are actively targeted by recreational fishers, even in spawning aggregations. Your concerns for sustainability of Striped Marlin might be better addressed to the recreational community?

Striped Marlin has been heavily fished in many areas of the world, but they are relatively lightly fished in Australian waters. The most recent biological work on this species is actually rather optimistic about the status of stocks even in the general western and central Pacific where there are many areas where the species is more heavily fished than it is in Australia. The Australian Government fisheries management agencies do not hold particular concerns for the sustainability of Striped Marlin, but are continuing to monitor the species and will adjust the management arrangements for this species accordingly.

With regard to your statements about mercury, the methyl mercury risks arising from the consumption of seafood is managed in Australia through dietary advisories that have been developed by relevant government agencies, such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the NSW Food Authority. These provide vulnerable consumers (defined as; pregnant and breast feeding women, women planning pregnancy and children younger than 6 yrs) with dietary advice regarding appropriate consumption levels for different seafood species. For Marlin the dietary advice for vulnerable persons is one (1) serve per fortnight and no other fish in that fortnight.

However, recent research is showing that the current advisories are very highly conservative due to the recently understood protective effect that selenium has with respect to any methyl mercury that might be found in seafood.

Dr Nicholas Ralston, a scientist funded by the highly respected US Environmental Protection Agency, states ‘. . .none of those risks are showing up in any of the studies that are currently ongoing, so actually all we’re finding is benefits’.

These new studies show that it is beneficial to eat more fish, rather than harmful as previously thought. Dr Ralston states ‘The results are actually showing increases in IQ, so child IQs are improved by mothers eating more ocean fish. In fact actually all of the warnings that we were thinking would protect against having harm to child IQ, it turns out that if mothers avoid eating ocean fish their child is far more likely to have reduced IQ rather than have any benefits from avoiding exposure to any of the contaminants that were causing concern.’ ( Taken from a video interview with Dr Nicholas Ralston at under ‘Health’.)

We trust you continue to enjoy your sport fishing and the right to buy a wide variety of beautiful Australian seafood.

Yours sincerely

On Behalf of Bryan Skepper (SFM Administration manager)

In response to the above, the anonymous Fisho reader sent a follow-up email to the Sydney Fish Markets for them to clarify some of their claims:

Thankyou for your considered and prompt response. I’d like to ask a few further questions if I may and provide you with some further information I have on recreational fishing.

I am interested in your observation that blue and black marlin are more seriously depleted than striped marlin, particularly when considering Australian waters. Where do you source information from, I’d be very interested? I am very pleased that black and blue marlin are protected from commercial harvesting, this will no doubt be benefiting their populations. However, I question why striped marlin are not also protected by Australian legislation, particularly when we know that the striped marlin off the Australian coast spend most of their time within, or very close to the Australian EEZ. Therefore, any reduction in fishing pressure will lead directly to improved striped marlin stocks off the Australian coast. Also, targeting of striped marlin leads to the bycatch of many black and blue marlin, unfortunately with a large proportion being killed in the process. Less striped marlin fishing = less billfish mortality. Something the recreational sector would strongly appreciate.

You mention spawning aggregations of black and blue marlin being targeted by the recreational sector. I’m not sure that anyone is aware of where blue marlin aggregate for spawning off the east coast of Australia, we do however, have some aggregations of fish from time to time along the coast that recreational fishers will obviously target when in range. Do you know the location of any of these spawning aggregations?

It is widely recognised that black marlin spawn off the northern Queensland coast and yes those fish are actively targeted by recreational fishers. All spending considerable amounts of money to have the privilege. That fishery, as with most recreational billfish fisheries is strongly catch and release focused. In fact, there are probably more than a thousand black marlin released up there each year with only a handful (5-10) weighed. This is a great improvement from when commercial harvesting was allowed and huge numbers of fish were harvested from the spawning aggregation by Japanese and Australian commercial fishers.

Further, I am aware that approximately 50% of all commercially caught striped marlin are harvested from Queensland by targeting of the spawning aggregation. This occurs during the winter and early spring by targeted longline fishing in the wide grounds where the fish are either travelling to, or gathering at, the spawning grounds. This is a known spawning aggregation and surely is not appropriate or a sustainable approach where every fish taken by the commercial fishery is killed and removed from the environment as it is about to spawn?

In terms of figures for survival of fish released from recreational gear, the figure is probably overall around 90%+ with scientific papers giving the lowest figure as approximately 75% for striped marlin caught on j-hooks up to 100% for white marlin caught using circle hooks. Figures from the NSW tournament fishery show that the proportion of striped marlin released has increased over the years, with the latest figures giving the proportion released to be 95%. Surely this, along with the huge economic contribution by large numbers of gamefisher is good justification to allow continued access to the billfish resource for recreational fishers?

Striped marlin have considerable fishing pressure in Australia and this is having a negative impact on their population abundance. Australia is well behind a number of other countries that protect their billfish properly and I will continue to highlight this wherever I can.

Fisho will keep you posted on any further developments in this issue.

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