The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 was introduced this week in the House and Senate. If passed, this legislation will play a pivotal role in restoring billfish populations that have been severely depleted by commercial overfishing. By protecting these fish from overfishing, this legislation will lead to the long-overdue recovery of billfish.
The bill was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) who teamed up with 11 additional members of Congress to introduce the bipartisan legislation in the Senate and House.
This legislation would prohibit the sale of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the United States, while still allowing for traditional fisheries within the state of Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Area. Swordfish are not included in the prohibition.
The commercial sale of billfish in the U.S. contributes very little to our commercial fishing industry, yet the recreational pursuit of these game fish play a crucial role in coastal economies. Billfish account for just 0.07% of the total annual revenue from all commercial fishing in the U.S. There are many sustainable alternatives for restaurants and retailers to offer in place of billfish; thus most restaurants have taken marlin and other billfish off the menu.
“Several billfish species are in serious decline, according to a recent global assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN),” said Rob Kramer, President of the International Game Fish Association. “This is a wonderful step by Congress to recover billfish and create new jobs in the sportfishing and marine economy.”
According to Ken Hinman, President of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, “The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 makes it clear that the future of billfish is not for sale. Hats off to Congressman Jeff Miller, Senator David Vitter, and the bi-partisan co-sponsors of the legislation for making sure there will always be plenty of billfish in the sea, for this and future generations of anglers.”
Marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively called billfish, are some of the world’s most majestic marine fish. They are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.
“Billfish are highly regarded by recreational anglers the world over, and catch-and-release fisheries for these species support many marine jobs and generate billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.”
Billfish are primarily caught as bycatch in non-U.S. commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries, but the bycatch is harvested and sold internationally, with the United States serving as the world’s largest importer of billfish.
For nearly two decades, the U.S. prohibited the sale of Atlantic-caught billfish, yet no such ban exists for Pacific-caught billfish. This Pacific Ocean loophole also creates a black market for Atlantic-caught billfish because there is no way to effectively enforce the distinction. Other countries continue to sell billfish in the U.S. through this loophole. The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 closes that loophole.
Unfortunately, the world’s billfish stocks are seriously imperiled from non-U.S. commercial fishing. Earlier this month, the IUCN announced that, as a result of these population declines, blue and white marlin are now threatened and striped marlin is nearly threatened with extinction.
The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Rep. Rob Wittman (R- VA), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), and Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK).
In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The IGFA is a 72 year-old nonprofit conservation and record keeping organization with representatives and members in about 120 countries and territories. The association’s headquarters are in the 60,000 sq ft IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Florida. Learn more at www.igfa.org.
The National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC), founded by conservation-minded anglers in 1973, is dedicated to keeping the ocean wild to preserve fishing opportunities for the future. The NCMC is based in Leesburg, Virginia. Learn more at www.savethefish.org.