HELP STOP THE SALE OF BILLFISH

charlie levineThe Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 would help stop the killing of billfish currently taking place in Central America and other Pacific Rim countries. Fishermen from these areas sell their billfish to the United States — an estimated 30,000 marlin and sailfish each year — even though the U.S. itself has no commercial fishery targeting billfish. The United Statese banned the harvest of billfish by our own commercial fishermen on the East and West Coasts years ago.

Imports are undermining U.S. efforts to conserve these magnificent fish that are threatened by commercial overfishing on the high seas. Billfish are so valuable to our recreational catch-and-release fishery here at home.

“The Billfish Conservation Act has strong bipartisan support because it's good for the economy and good for the environment,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC), a leader of the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign.

“The ban on sales of billfish is endorsed by everyone from Tea Party Republicans to liberal Democrats, the sport fishing industry and leading environmental groups. It's the kind of bill that should sail through Congress.”

The Billfish Conservation Act (HR 2706) was introduced by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and today has 24 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. A companion bill (S. 1451) was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and that bill also has broad bipartisan support. (See list of co-sponsors below.)

While the bill has generated a great deal of momentum, it is currently stalled due to Washington, D.C. bureaucrats wrongly concerned about setting a precedent for giving “Game Fish” status to other species and harming commercial fishing interests. But the plight billfish face is unique. There hasn't been a commercial fishery for billfish in the U.S. (outside of Hawaii, whose local market is exempted) for more than two decades and the benefits to continuing to import billfish to our highly elastic seafood industry billfish conservationare virtually non-existent. Banning the sale of imported billfish in the U.S. does not disenfranchise any U.S. commercial fishermen. Instead it reinforces existing U.S.fishery management plans on both the East and West Coasts that prohibit commercial fishing for billfish.

To help this bill get passed, anglers need to light a fire in Congress.

“There is currently no real opposition to the bill,” says Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), a partner in Take Marlin Off the Menu. “But we need to light more of a fire under some members because the bill has not had a hearing yet in either the House or Senate, and it is getting late in the shortened Congressional session.”

So, how do we do this? One way to drive the bill forward is to have constituents pointedly weigh in with key Committee Members to get a commitment to move the bill through the committee and to the floor for a vote.

Although it is beneficial to contact all U.S. Senators and Representatives, the key Members of the House include the following:

Rep. Doc Hasting (R-WA) Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) Chairman of the Fisheries Subcommittee to the Natural Resources Committee.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) He introduced the bill and has the most to gain from its passage.
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also much to gain from passage.

Key Members of the Senate include:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa) Chairman of the Commerce Committee.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) He introduced the bill for us and has the most to gain from its passage.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also has much to gain from its passage.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also has much to gain from its passage.

Reach out to these senators and representatives, and to your own Congressmen. Below is a short sample letter you may copy and paste and send to your Congressional leaders:

Dear Congressman or Senator (insert name of Representative):

I write for two reasons. The first reason is to thank you for all you are doing for the people of [insert name of state]. I appreciate your public service.

Second, and more specifically, I write to endorse HR 2706 (or S. 1451 if writing to a Senator), the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011, and I am hopeful that you can quickly arrange a hearing, and secure passage, of this important legislation. Billfish populations — marlin, sailfish and spearfish — are in terrible shape because a few countries (not the United States, where commercial sale is already banned) are harvesting billfish and then exporting to the U.S. This bill will help protect these magnificent fish, top ocean predators essential to a healthy ocean, while improving recreational fishing opportunities where fishing for billfish is almost entirely catch-and-release and play a positive economic role in generating jobs.

Thanks for all you do for the citizens of insert name of state and the United States.

Best Regards, ________________________________________

Original Sponsors and Co-sponsors in the House and Senate

H.R.2706
Sponsor: Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1]
Co-sponsors:
Rep Alexander, Rodney [LA-5]
Rep Bonner, Jo [AL-1]
Rep Boren, Dan [OK-2]
Rep Buchanan, Vern [FL-13]
Rep Coble, Howard [NC-6]
Rep Diaz-Balart, Mario [FL-21]
Rep Duncan, Jeff, [SC-3]
Rep Flores, Bill [TX-17]
Rep Harris, Andy [MD-1]
Rep Heinrich, Martin [NM-1]
Rep Landry, Jeffrey M. [LA-3]
Rep Latta, Robert E. [OH-5]
Rep Michaud, Michael H. [ME-2]
Rep Napolitano, Grace F. [CA-38]
Rep Palazzo, Steven M. [MS-4]
Rep Pierluisi, Pedro R. [PR]
Rep Rivera, David [FL-25]
Rep Rooney, Thomas J. [FL-16]
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-18]
Rep Ross, Mike [AR-4]
Rep Shuler, Heath [NC-11]
Rep Southerland, Steve [FL-2]
Rep Wittman, Robert J. [VA-1]
Rep Young, Don [AK]

S.1451
Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (LA)
Co-sponsors:
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA]
Sen Cantwell, Maria [WA]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI]
Sen Wicker, Roger F. [MS] 

For more information visit www.takemarlinoffthemenu.org.