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Billfish Conservation Act Advances

Recreational anglers scored a big victory in Congress as the Billfish Conservation Act advanced in the House of Representatives. The Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the Billfish Conservation Act for future floor consideration. With only minor modifications, H.R. 2706, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), received overwhelming bi-partisan support in the Committee.

“Congressman Miller has been a huge champion for recreational anglers in Florida — and across the country,” said International Game Fish Association President Rob Kramer. “He is making things happen, finding a way to get the Billfish Conservation Act through Congress. Next up we need a floor vote in the House of Representatives and action in the Senate Commerce Committee.”

By eliminating a sizeable component of the international billfish market, this legislation will boost the billfish recovery efforts underway in the United States and abroad.

“Billfish are harvested by other nations and sold to the U.S. even though the U.S. has strong conservation measures in place for its waters — this has caused a serious decline in [billfish] populations,” Kramer said. “We applaud Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) as well as Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-La.) for making this important legislation a priority. This bill is a perfect example of how conservation legislation can result in enormous benefits to the economy while sustaining imperiled species at no cost to American taxpayers. This important step is great news for recreational anglers and for people working in tourism, sportfishing and marine businesses.”

According to Ken Hinman, President of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, “It is great to see momentum for the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011. Now is the time to make it clear that the future of billfish is not for sale.”

The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Miller and his colleagues Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), and Dan Boren (D-Okla.).

In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-La.), and co-sponsored by Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). It would prohibit the sale of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the United States, while still allowing for traditional fisheries within Hawaii waters and the Pacific Insular Area.Swordfish are not included in the prohibition.

Marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively called billfish, are some of the world’s most majestic marine game fish. They are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. Billfish are also highly esteemed 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.

Unfortunately, the world’s billfish stocks are seriously imperiled from non-U.S. commercial fishing. Recently, as a result of these population declines, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed blue and white marlin as threatened species and striped marlin as nearly threatened.

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. has had a ban on 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 will close that loophole.

There are many sustainable alternatives for restaurants and retailers to offer in place of billfish, and most restaurants have taken marlin and other billfish off the menu.

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The International Game Fish Association, or IGFA, is a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping. The IGFA are the official record holders for world-record and line-class records on both fresh and saltwater fish. For more information, visit igfa.org.