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US Billfish Conservation Act shifts spotlight to declining local marlin stocks

US President Barack Obama has signed the Billfish Conservation Act which effectively bans the importation of all billfish into the continental United States.

Sport Fishing magazine reports that the signing marks the culmination of angling and conservation groups working in cooperation with a bipartisan group of congressional champions. Although there are no commercial billfish fisheries in the US, about 30,000 billfish are imported into the US annually.

“This is a tremendous success for these highly migratory species,” National Coalition for Marine Conservation President (NCMC) Ken Hinman said. “Marlin, sailfish, and spearfish do not know country boundaries and travel through three of the planet’s oceans. Giving them greater protection in the United States sets the stage for better protection worldwide.”

The NCMC and the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), who championed the bill, will now turn their attention to the international challenges facing these imperiled species. And with populations of three species of marlin having declined by more than 50 per cent, their efforts come not a moment too soon.

“Recreational anglers and ocean conservationists have been the primary supporters behind the Billfish Conservation Act,” IGFA President Rob Kramer commented, “and I am confident that with this strong step by the United States, we will be able to raise support for more robust measures elsewhere.”

The US move hasn’t gone unnoticed by those concerned about the state of billfish fisheries closer to home. In New Zealand the Sports Fishing Council’s scientific adviser John Holdsworth says striped marlin are vulnerable to commercial fishing because there aren’t many of them. He says by reducing the marketability of striped marlin or other marlin, it’s less likely they’ll be targeted by long-line fleets.

“We’re quite concerned about the increase in the Chinese fleet that has now got 250 vessels and they’re still building more in the South Pacific and their catch of marlin is increasing.”

This backs up information Fisho has received that a stock assessment of striped marlin in the southwest Pacific Ocean shows numbers are approaching an overfished state. See report HERE.

Australia’s fisheries management body AFMA appears to have a different take on the state of the local striped marlin fishery. A recent AFMA news update on stock assessments for the Eastern Tuna and billfish fishery worryingly states that:
The results of the Southwest Pacific Striped Marlin assessment indicate that the stock is being fully utilised and is not experiencing overfishing. Spawning Biomass is estimated to be 29 per cent of pre-fishing levels. The Scientific Committee noted that recent catches are close to maximum sustainable yield (the maximum amount that can be caught without negatively impacting future commercial harvest levels). Australia has taken just over 19 per cent of the South West Pacific Striped Marlin catch in 2011.
More details available at: http://www.afma.gov.au/category/afma-update/

Fisho has long pushed for the banning of commercial harvesting of striped marlin and hopes that with the recent formation of peak recreational fishing bodies, the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation (ARFF) and Keep Australia Fishing (KAF), the Australian Government can be effectively lobbied to rectify this situation before this valuable fishery collapses.

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