In this summer’s edition of the Wild Oceans Horizon, I wrote about the tremendous progress we’ve made securing measures to save big fish from indiscriminate fishing and aid in the recovery of billfish, bluefin tuna and oceanic sharks.
Today, large areas off the east and west coasts are closed to fishing with multi-mile longlines and drift nets, forcing innovative commercial fishermen to develop more selective, sustainable alternatives. Strict caps on the bycatch of protected and depleted species give fishermen added incentive to fish cleanly.
These and other modifications (e.g., circle hooks and buoy-gear) are in turn being exported to other countries fishing the high seas, while we close U.S. markets to fish caught as bycatch with indiscriminate gears.
All together, these measures have left thousands and thousands of big fish alive in the water. And yet there are still serious threats that need our attention, among them:
- The Hawaiian longline fleet, exempted from the mainland ban on commercial fishing for billfish, landed over 20,000 blue and striped marlin in 2014, an unsustainable and unregulated bycatch. That has to change.
- The Pacific Council has closed some offshore waters to protect sea turtles from drift netting, but it still permits the mile-long entanglement nets to fish elsewhere, even though safer bycatch-free alternatives for catching swordfish exist. It’s time to phase the nets out completely.
- Efforts to rebuild billfish in the Atlantic are undermined by global trade in these vulnerable and recreationally-valuable species. The international tuna commission (ICCAT) needs to limit retention for local consumption in local markets only.
- The rod-and-reel marlin fishery, which is virtually all catch-and-release, could go even further by giving special protection to the older females that are the most prolific breeders.
- U.S. longlining in the Atlantic is down everywhere but in the Sargasso Sea, where the number of hooks has risen tenfold since 2000. The Sargasso is of enormous ecological importance as a nursery and feeding ground for ocean-going species of fish and other wildlife. The U.S. should get behind international efforts to make the area a sanctuary from longlining and other indiscriminate ways of fishing.
Read more here, Sustainable Fishing for Big Fish: A Work in Progress.