General Fishery For Atlantic Bluefin Reopens Thanks To Quota Transfer

The Atlantic bluefin tuna General fishery will reopen December 1 for the first time since early October, thanks to a transfer of quota.

NOAA Fisheries is transferring 25.6 mt from the Harpoon category to the General category, part of which will fill in for overharvests made in the September, October, and November subquota. The unused portion, however, results in 12.7 mt for the General category’s December subquota period, thereby providing fishermen with a chance to participate in the December fishery and harvest the U.S.’s remaining quota.

The Harpoon category closed for the year as of November 15. The General category had previously been closed on September 17 – October 1, and then opened for four days before closing again from October 5 through the month of November because the allocated catch quota had been reached. If not for the transfer of Harpoon quota, the General category would remain closed for the rest of the year as there was no remaining quota.

NOAA Fisheries is reminding General category participants that when the Atlantic bluefin fishery does reopen December 1, 2017, a daily retention limit of one large-medium or giant fish is in place.

The General category applies to vessels permitted in the commercial Atlantic tunas General category, as well as those in the HMS Charter/Headboat category while fishing commercially. Dealers are required to submit landing reports to NMFS within 24 hours of receiving a bluefin tuna. Additionally, General category and HMS Charter/Headboat category vessels are required to report the catch of all bluefin retained or discarded dead within 24 hours of landing.

The post General Fishery For Atlantic Bluefin Reopens Thanks To Quota Transfer appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

2017 ICCAT Commission Meeting Concludes With Quota Shifts

More than 700 delegates from 47 member nations met in Marrakesh last week for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to discuss management strategies for several valuable species. The United States is one of many countries party to the commission, an inter-governmental organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and other migratory fish in the Atlantic Ocean.

A look at the Nov. 2017 ICCAT meeting in Marrakech (credit: Julia Snouck-Hurgronje)

This year, tunas, swordfish, and sharks were on the agenda as scientists brought recommendations based on research findings. The catch limit for western Atlantic bluefin tuna was increased to 2,350 metric tons (mt), resulting in a 17% quota increase for U.S. fishermen. NOAA Fisheries reports that this level of catch will avoid overfishing while providing for the stability of the fishery over the next three years. The catch limit for the eastern Atlantic/Mediterranean stock was also increased for the 2018-2020 period, alongside fishery monitoring and control measures.

Atlantic bluefin tuna (credit: NOAA Fisheries)

Bluefin tuna are arguably the most valued fish in the sea, and a higher quota means higher profit for many in the industry. Quota decisions have become highly politicized, and continue to increase despite attempts by environmental group to list the Pacific bluefin tuna as an endangered species considering its drastically reduced numbers. In commercial tuna fishing, many non-target species are also threatened, including sea turtles, sharks, and billfish.

The North Atlantic shortfin mako is one such species, and after conducting a new stock assessment, ICCAT’s scientific committee advised in October that the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. It was decided last week to focus on measures that will reduce fishing mortality as well as efforts to improve data collection. Additional scientific advice was called for on biologically important areas for this species, and the effectiveness of mitigation measures such as circle hooks, which have significantly improved billfish survival rates. When the Commission convenes in 2019 it must establish a shortfin mako rebuilding plan.

ICCAT members reached an agreement at this meeting that lowers the total allowable catch for the North Atlantic swordfish stock in order to ensure it remains healthy. A recent assessment shows that the stock is not overfished nor is overfishing occurring, although the rate of recovery has been slower than expected.

And after seven years of negotiations and amendments to the original 1969 ICCAT Convention, the Commission is nearing the final stage of reshaping their mission to reflect more modern principles, such as the precautionary approach and ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The amendments will also clarify the scope of the Commission, particularly when it comes to sharks, which are currently not explicitly considered.

The Billfish Foundation participates in as many ICCAT meetings as possible, providing a voice not only for billfish but also for recreational anglers. TBF President Ellen Peel has served as the Recreational Chair to ICCAT, Peter Chaibongsai is currently an advisor on the U.S. Advisory Committee to ICCAT, and Heather Tomasetti presented research regarding fish aggregation devices to the scientific committee in September.

The post 2017 ICCAT Commission Meeting Concludes With Quota Shifts appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Sailfish, Ceviche, and Tag Cards At Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala

It was during the slow, hot days of a south Florida summer that The Billfish Foundation and Waterlust hatched a plan to boost each of their marine conservation efforts. The two groups have worked together in the past, together creating a short film called “Moneyfi$h” that demonstrated the billfish conservation work to which TBF is dedicated. This time, the project focused on media: Waterlust has a new product design in the making, and needed high quality images of the various colors and patterns exhibited by sailfish, while TBF needed photo and video content of all kinds to help spread their message more widely.

The next step was finding a location with endless opportunity for sailfish bites. That’s when TBF’s Peter Chaibongsai declared, “Hands down, Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala.”  TBF contacted long-time supporter Casa Vieja Lodge (CVL), who graciously offered to host the group of marine conservationists for a fishing trip on the aptly named vessel Release.

TBF’s Science & Policy Associate, Adrienne Katz, Waterlust’s Jennah Caster and Laura Graham, and Robert “Fly” Navarro, there to provide his fishing expertise and add to the conversation, made up the project’s team. They arrived in Guatemala on Sunday, October 22, and after a scenic drive to the lodge, were greeted by Lodge Manager Elisa Sheeder and her staff, armed with local hibiscus cocktails. Preparations soon after began for the next day of fishing with Release’s Captain Chico and his mates, Arturo and Alex.

Over the following three days the group tagged 23 sailfish and a single blue marlin, released an additional eight sailfish and one blue marlin without tags, and kept a few mahi mahi for lunch. Each day ended with reviewing the captured media footage and filling out the constant tag cards. “Sitting by the pool, filling out tag cards, going over the excitement of the day while snacking on fresh-caught yellowtail sashimi, I had to remind myself this was in fact, a work trip,” said Katz.

Aside from the service, food, drinks, and of course the fishing, a notable nicety of Casa Vieja Lodge is the intimate atmosphere that makes it easy to get to know the other groups staying at the property. Adrienne and Fly were able to talk billfish conservation with other guests, also anglers, many of whom were interested in TBF’s tagging program. And because all of the CVL captains tag and report their releases, it was exciting for them to hear pieces of the fish puzzle come together with the broad knowledge of taggings Adrienne shared.

TBF thanks Casa Vieja Lodge for hosting this project team, as well as Waterlust and Fly for their commitment to our work. We are looking forward to sharing new videos and images from this trip, and can’t wait to make it back down to Guatemala!

The post Sailfish, Ceviche, and Tag Cards At Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Atlantic Billfish & Swordfish 2017 Landings Update

NOAA Fisheries recently released an updated estimate of recreational billfish landings in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as commercial and recreational landings of swordfish, thus far in 2017.

From January 1 through September 30, 2017, NMFS reports landings of Atlantic blue and white marlin, roundscale spearfish, and western Atlantic sailfish in number of fish. The table below identifies how many of each have been caught so far this year.

2017 Atlantic billfish landings (credit: NOAA Fisheries)

This landings information is compiled from a number of sources: self-reports in the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Non-Tournament Recreational Swordfish and Billfish Landings Database, tournament landings from the Atlantic Tournament Registration & Reporting (ATR) system, catch card reports from North Carolina and Maryland, as well as individual billfish intercepted by the Large Pelagic Survey and Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP).

In the U.S., the recreational billfish fishery is limited to a total maximum of 250 Atlantic blue and white marlin and roundscale spearfish landings, combined, per year. This helps maintain populations of the species at healthy levels considering they face fishing pressure from numerous nations. Not included in this 250 fish landings limit is the Western Atlantic sailfish.

NMFS also released the landings estimate for Atlantic swordfish stocks for the year, through October 31, 2017. The numbers are generated using commercial dealer reports as well as reports by anglers in the HMS Non-Tournament Recreational Swordfish and Billfish Landings Database and the Recreational Billfish Survey. The tables below show 2017 landings and remaining quota for the North Atlantic Swordfish stock and the South Atlantic Swordfish stock, respectively.

2017 landings of North Atlantic swordfish stock as of Oct. 31 (credit: NOAA Fisheries)

2017 landings of South Atlantic swordfish stock as of Oct. 31 (credit: NOAA Fisheries)

The post Atlantic Billfish & Swordfish 2017 Landings Update appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

FAD Project Takes Next Step At GCFI Conference

Team members from The Billfish Foundation joined in the Gulf & Caribbean Fisheries Institute conference held in Merida, Mexico last week. It was the 70th anniversary of the conference, where scientists, managers, and fishers all come together to share information, new technologies, and collaborate on solutions.

Both of TBF’s summer 2017 interns were accepted to present their projects at the conference: one a poster and the other an oral presentation. The poster’s topic was a study of consumer attitudes toward seafood and purchasing behavior. Do people really care where their fish comes from? The short answer is yes, the public cares about seafood sustainability, but their actions rarely reflect this attitude as most do not spend the money to purchase certified seafood, nor do many consider the fishing gears that cause the most damage.

TBF’s newest staff member and former intern, Heather Tomasetti, presented her research on fish aggregation device (FAD) management in the Caribbean. The product of this research is a guide to building a FAD management plan, which was well received by the audience. TBF was able to meet with several interested parties while at the weeklong conference and develop next steps for the research.

Heather Tomasetti presents her FAD management guide at the GCFI Conference

With a handful of groups who have expressed interest in utilizing the guide, TBF intends to determine the best locations for several pilot projects. There are groups that consist entirely of recreational anglers, communities that are made up of both recreational and artisanal fishers, and even one interested co-op of artisanal fishers. Over the next year, we will be working to identify which locations are most feasible and ready to use the guide and begin preparing for implementation.

In the Caribbean, there is very little management of FADs, which has led to explosive conflict between users on the water, in some instances the stealing of fish from recreational anglers by artisanal fishermen. TBF is hopeful that deployment, fishing effort, and catch can all be appropriately managed through community involvement. This guide is the first step in working towards that kind of sustainable solution.

The post FAD Project Takes Next Step At GCFI Conference appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Results From ‘Grander’ Marlin Sample Available Years After Landing

We now know a little bit more about the massive marlin that was caught off Hawaii nearly a decade ago. On September 1, 2009, three anglers landed a blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) 21 miles south of Honolulu: the fish measured 12.2 feet long and weighed 1,245 pounds. At over 1000 lbs, the blue marlin is also known as a “grander” marlin.

Anglers pose with a grander blue marlin caught off Hawaii in 2009 (credit: NOAA PIFSC)

Fish of this size are difficult to study because they are difficult to land in the first place. The captain, crew, fisherman and locals acted quickly to take size measurements and save the head in order to provide the National Marine Fisheries Service with highly sought after data. In the marlin’s head is the key to answering the question of its age—its otoliths, or ear bones (but any calcified hard parts such scales, vertebrae, and fin spines can be used for aging fish). These calcium carbonate structures, also found in humans, are incredibly tiny yet act as a calendar, laying another layer year after year, similar to the rings found within tree stumps. Scientists can use radioactive carbon dating as a time marker to date a point in the otolith and count forward from there.

Fish otoliths, the ear bones frequently used to age fish, beside a dime for scale (credit: NOAA Fisheries)

In the case of this grander blue marlin, the otoliths were found to weigh less than half a single grain of rice, and both could fit on a dime. The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center announced last week that they were finally able to age the grander blue marlin, and discovered that it was just 20 years old.

The first reaction is to be surprised by the young age of such a large fish. It means this blue marlin would have to be growing at an astonishing rate each year—however, there is research from young blue marlins that supports a staggering growth rate. The Billfish Foundation (TBF) is working on furthering this research to determine the potential maximum age. Such information will aid in understanding fluctuations in the fishery over time.

TBF will be working with Dr. John Hoolihan from the University of Miami Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Dr. Jiangang Luo from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science to analyze age and growth data from Atlantic blue marlin. Previous samplings have made available the cross sections of anal fin spines from about 1700 blue marlin gathered in Venezuelan and U.S. fisheries. Among this collection are numerous examples of very large, older individuals. The objective of this project is to develop improved growth rate curves and estimates of maximum age to help reduce the level of uncertainty in the stock assessment process.

When it comes to billfish, many questions remain. It is hoped that this research will help answer some questions, which can then be used in proper management.

The post Results From ‘Grander’ Marlin Sample Available Years After Landing appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

TBF Calls For Collective Management of FAD Fisheries

Humans have known for centuries that fish are attracted to floating objects. Fishermen have taken advantage of this behavior by fishing around palm fronds, seaweed patches, and any debris that may be found in the open ocean. Theories for the behavior vary from protective sheltering to following food to stock enhancement, all attributable to the floating object. More recently, this behavior has been utilized by both the commercial and recreational sectors seeking large pelagic species, usually found scattered throughout the vast ocean. If a floating object attracts these fish, then it’s a floating object we’ll use to catch them.

Fish aggregating devices, known as FADs, are becoming increasingly popular for catching highly migratory fish such as tunas and billfish. Drifting FADs are used in the Pacific by the tuna industry, while anchored FADs are used in Australia by recreational anglers as well as in the Caribbean by artisanal fishers. It’s a foolproof strategy: deploy a FAD in an area where pelagic species travel, wait for the fish to congregate, and then watch as the catch yields marlin after marlin or school upon school of tuna.

The commercial tuna industry sees FADs as the future of the fishery, while artisanal fishers in lesser-developed nations utilize FADs for food and survival. Recreational anglers, however, seem to be torn between the allure of a guaranteed Grand Slam and the notion of diminishing the challenge that is sport fishing.

Whatever your stance on the sport of it, it’s hard to deny the uncertainty. With thousands of FADs being deployed into the oceans each year, we simply do not know the impact. Are there truly more fish to be caught, perhaps populations are increasing due to the aggregating behavior? Or does it just seem that way because all the individuals have congregated in this particular location? There is also the possibility that FADs may affect migratory patterns as fish learn to avoid the hundreds of objects in their route, or oppositely, are so attracted to the FADs that they fail to move on. In addition, FADs have been blamed for contributing to the expansive problem of marine debris. Very rarely are drifting FADs retrieved, and those that are anchored often break free from their line in rough weather or due to a ship strike, leaving the nets, cables, and buoy materials to freely float through the sea until sinking or washing ashore.

Social relationships can also be strained amid FAD fisheries, as multiple users have an interest in catching the same collection of aggregated fish. Conflicts arise in places such as the Caribbean, where recreational anglers compete with artisanal fishers for the same resource. FADs purely for recreational fishing have had success in Australia, but all anglers adhere to a national FAD Code of Conduct in order to avoid disputes on the water.

The Billfish Foundation calls for a collaborative management effort in FAD fisheries. The drafting and implementing of plans should be inclusive of all sectors, and address not only the environmental concerns but also the social repercussions that have been witnessed elsewhere. It is important to draw from success stories as well as examples of warning in order to develop FAD management strategies that are participatory and fair. While FADs offer an efficient means of catching elusive migratory species, their rapid deployment should come with a word of warning that we are in uncharted waters.

If you’d like to see more research on FADS, become a member to support our work and have your voice heard.

The post TBF Calls For Collective Management of FAD Fisheries appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Florida’s Saltwater Industry Back In Business After Irma

Following the wrath of Hurricane Irma came the destruction: downed trees, debris thrown across roadways, docks uplifted from their posts, boats sunken or tossed on land, and in some cases complete flattening of structures.

Bud N’ Mary’s Marina before and after Hurricane Irma (credit: Facebook)

The entire state of Florida felt the massive storm and its aftermath in some way, not least of all the recreational and saltwater industry. Tourism is a strong economic generator for the state, but took a beating during the hurricane. Entertainment parks like Disney World and Miami Seaquarium, water activities like charter fishing and craft rentals, and entire destinations like Key West all shut down in preparation and in the wake of Irma.

Several weeks later, however, and the industry is declaring itself open for business. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is sending out notices that the recreational and saltwater industry is back, and town representatives are giving the all clear for tourism to resume. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: tourism dollars are needed to keep these communities afloat, but visitors are unsure about what is left after the natural disaster. The Billfish Foundation would like to echo much of the rest of the state in saying that the recreational and saltwater industry is back and ready for action.

Tony DiGiulian, an angler who operates out of Fort Lauderdale, could not work for a handful of days after Irma. The hurricane caused him to have at least five cancelled charters. Due to the stalled business of boats like his, tackle shops, electricians, marinas and other secondary marine businesses were the ones really hurt, DiGiulian said.

In Miami, charter captain Bouncer had his boat stored in the Dusky factory where it stayed safe. While Miami Beach Marina was in good condition, power was out just like everywhere else causing a pause in operations. A week later they were able to get back out fishing, a great feeling he said.

Support the Keys economy by eating lunch at a local restaurant

The Florida Keys were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Irma and suffered significant damage. Once basic needs were met, however, debris was removed and work began on rebuilding docks and retrieving lost lobster pots. Nick Stanczyk operates out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, where the docks were completely lost. Rebuilding is underway, however, and new pilings are going in this week. By the end of September the marina announced on Facebook that they were open for business, albeit with limited operations, with a few rooms open, charters available, and the party boat resumed.

As the FWC Commissioner put it, “Keep those fishing trips and vacations on the books if you can. These fishermen and women are ready to work, and need your business now more than ever. We are going to come back stronger than ever, but we need your help.”

The post Florida’s Saltwater Industry Back In Business After Irma appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna General Fishery Open 4 Days Before Another Closure

The Atlantic bluefin tuna General category fishery for large-medium and giant bluefin tuna closes Thursday October 5, 2017 for roughly two months. This comes just four days after the October 1 reopening of a previous closure instituted on September 17.

The National Marine Fisheries Service made the decision to close the fishery based on the best available landings information in addition to current catch rates and fishing conditions. NMFS determined that the September subquota for the General category will be reached by October 5, warranting a closure.

This closure applies to vessels permitted in the commercial Atlantic tunas General category as well as the HMS Charter/Headboat category. It goes into effect at 11:30 p.m. local time and lasts through November 30, 2017. Retaining, possessing, or landing large-medium or giant (measuring 73 inches curved fork length or greater) by persons aboard such permitted vessels must cease at this time.

During the closure fishermen may catch and release or tag and release bluefin tuna of all sizes, in correspondence with best handling practices to maximize survival.

When the fishery does reopen on December 1, 2017, the daily retention limit for the category will be one large-medium or giant bluefin tuna per vessel per day/trip.

The post Atlantic Bluefin Tuna General Fishery Open 4 Days Before Another Closure appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Tunas & Floating Objects Dominate Conversation At ICCAT

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (and other highly migratory species, HMS) convened mid-September in Madrid, Spain specifically to discuss management of tropical tunas followed by the topic of fish aggregation devices (FADs).

The first gathering regarding tropical tunas was largely made up of scientists, with heavy representation from Spain, France, and the U.S., as well as with individuals from Japan, Ivory Coast, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, and more. The purse seine fishery is of primary concern when it comes to tropical tunas, as most are caught in this type of gear. Further, purse seine vessels often set on tuna schools that have been aggregating thanks to a floating object, known as a FAD (fish aggregating device). ICCAT has recognized the significance of FADs in tuna fisheries, and began to work toward FAD management measures during this week in Madrid.

Definitions first had to be agreed upon:

  • what constitutes a set on a FAD? It is currently determined by the observer, but a FAD may be submerged below the surface and therefore difficult to see. Such a definition may also vary by nation. It was determined by ICCAT that a vessel’s distance from a FAD is important in defining whether the purse seine set is a FAD set.
  • “non-entangling” and “biodegradable” FADs: several ongoing projects (through the EU and ISSF) are investigating the biodegradable and non-entangling capabilities of particular materials that will help define these terms within the next year.

Other action items specified in 2016 and now addressed:

  • better vessel logbook recording
  • guidelines for captains to record qualitative information
  • identifying indicators for school management
  • measures for consolidating the database

Two more days were subsequently dedicated to FADs. A discussion began with a call for more data, as only a handful of contracting parties to the commission had submitted information in the first year (Spain, Curacao, and St. Lucia in 2012). The data request changed in 2015 to include more detailed information, and again in 2016. This proved to be a point of contention as scientists felt they do not have enough, or the right kind, of data, while the commercial tuna industry felt that the data requests were endless, complicated, and vastly time consuming. It was agreed that more information is needed but requests should be streamlined, a clarification that must be made by the Commission.

Presentations followed during which time studies from all parts of the world related to FADs were described. Topics included:

  • Biodegradable ropes are being experimented with in the Maldives
  • Effects FADs have on tuna stocks
  • Tuna’s colonization of FADs
  • Analyzing the pattern of FAD use by French tuna vessels to determine whether captains are fishing their own or others
  • Need for drafting specific FAD management objectives

TBF staff member Heather Sadusky (right) presents to the ICCAT working group on FADs

Following this session, Heather Sadusky, TBF staff member presented the topic of anchored FADs, which had previously received little to no attention at ICCAT meetings. These FADs are typically closer to shore and largely used by artisanal fishers with interest from recreational anglers as well. Tunas, billfish, mahi and wahoo are often caught around anchored FADs, and conflict between users is common, hence the need to develop management strategies. The presentation was met with comments of agreement from many West African nations, including Sao Tome and Principe, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, where anchored FADs are used by artisanal fishers and zero management is employed. The group agreed that anchored FADs require management and will need to consider this sector in the future.

The FAD working group meeting wrapped up with finalizing recommendations to provide to the Commission, the body of politicians who make the decisions.

It is important to note the gathering of stakeholders at this fisheries conference: countries, scientists, non-governmental organizations, research institutes, and conservation groups all convened to bring topics to light and decide upon the best course of action for managing tuna as well as fish aggregation devices. While many have individual agendas, the group setting allows for an open discussion and concludes with agreed-upon recommendations for the decision-making arm of ICCAT. This can sometimes lead to vague or broad recommendations in order to satisfy all stakeholders, but these are often viewed as capable of being modified, and a step in the right direction for the long-term sustainability of fish stocks. TBF is pleased to be a part of the international fisheries community, to continue to have a voice at the table, and highlight the use of anchored FADs in the Atlantic.

The post Tunas & Floating Objects Dominate Conversation At ICCAT appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

NOVA Halts Longline Research

Recommendations For Atlantic Swordfish Vary By Stock

Highly migratory species, including tunas and billfish, travel the world’s oceans and traverse national boundaries. Regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) work at the international level to manage such species, bringing together scientists and policymakers from all nations who have a stake in the fishery. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) is the RFMO that manages tuna, billfish, and sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. Recommendations are made each year based on the best available science and catch limits are set. However, assessing the health of each species requires a substantial amount of data and cannot be accomplished on a yearly basis. That is why stock assessments are highly anticipated in the fisheries community, and why it’s very exciting to announce the release of the 2017 Atlantic swordfish stock assessment.

ICCAT recently published its report on Atlantic swordfish, and came to two different conclusions for the North Atlantic and South Atlantic stocks.

The last assessment for North and South Atlantic swordfish was in 2013. The scientists behind this year’s assessment, including TBF’s chief scientist Dr. Phil Goodyear, utilized two different modeling programs to be sure of their results. They considered environmental factors to understand habitat suitability and therefore swordfish distribution, and used data on catch (amount of biomass) and effort (number of hooks) to assess the health of the stock. The scientists also included variations such as area, year, bait type, and fleet differences in their modeling.

For the North Atlantic swordfish stock, the main fleets targeting the fish as well as providing the data were the U.S., Japan, Canada, Morocco, EU-Spain, and EU-Portugal. ICCAT found this swordfish population to be steady. The rate of recovery has been slower than expected, but by 2015 the stock biomass is above the accepted sustainability threshold of MSY, or maximum sustainable yield (the level at which a stock is capable of yielding maximum product to a fishery while also maintaining a stable population). In fact, catch of North Atlantic swordfish has been below the total allowable catch (TAC) set by the Commission in the past few years. “Both models agreed that overfishing is not occurring and biomass is either higher or very close to BMSY,” (p.11, ICCAT, 2017). This is very positive news considering the dismal shape of swordfish stocks in recent history. It suggests conservation measures, such as closed zones, are working to protect valuable species

The South Atlantic swordfish stock, however, has a different story. Brazil, Uruguay, Japan, Spain, Chinese Taipei, and South Africa provided data for this stock assessment, which showed that the South Atlantic swordfish stock has been declining since 1990 as catches increase. ICCAT determined that the current stock’s biomass is below the threshold of MSY. Since 2010, catch has remained under the expected surplus in accordance with predicted rebuilding of the biomass. “Both models agreed that the southern swordfish stock biomass is overfished, and that overfishing is either occurring or current F [mortality] is very close to FMSY,” (p.11, ICCAT, 2017).

Going forward, ICCAT predicts that the North Atlantic swordfish population will remain at or above Bmsy (biomass will stay at the sustainable level of MSY). The South Atlantic swordfish stock, however, will require a reduced catch to rebuild the population to biomass levels that would create MSY.

After finalizing assessments of Atlantic swordfish stocks, both north and south, ICCAT recommended two specific management measures:

  • For the North Atlantic, “It was determined that future catches around or above 12,900 t would likely result in a decrease in biomass,” (p.15). Until this updated assessment, the TAC for North Atlantic swordfish had been set at 13,700 t.
  • And for the South Atlantic, “Current level of catches (10,058t) will rebuild the stock to achieve the Convention objectives by 2020…The TAC should not exceed 13,000 t,” (p.15).

TBF remains cautiously optimistic about this report, agreeing with the science that catch should not reach, nor breach, the TAC and should instead remain below to ensure a healthy stock. This assessment comes from the science branch of ICCAT, and it is now up to those of the policy branch to adopt the recommended science-based conservation measures.

The post Recommendations For Atlantic Swordfish Vary By Stock appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fishery Closes For September

The Atlantic bluefin tuna General category fishery for large-medium and giant bluefin tuna (73 in. curved fork length or larger) closes September 17, 2017 for the remainder of the month.

The National Marine Fisheries Service instituted the closure, effective 11:30 p.m. local time Sunday night, until the reopening on October 1, 2017. It was determined that the subquota for September will have been reached by Sept. 17, and therefore the closure is warranted.

The closure, which affects vessels permitted in the commercial Atlantic tunas General category as well as the HMS Charter/Headboat category, is intended to prevent overharvest and thereby ensure fishing opportunities in the remaining subquota months.

Catch and release fishing is still permissible, as is tag and release, for all sizes of bluefin tuna assuming best handling practices are exhibited and the fish is left in the water. However, retaining, possessing, or landing large-medium or giant bluefin tuna by anyone aboard vessels permitted in the Atlantic tunas General and Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat categories must cease at 11:30 p.m. September 17, 2017 through September 30, 2017.

The post Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fishery Closes For September appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Sailfish Brewery Welcomes TBF At Tag & Release Festival

Members of The Billfish Foundation team spent a full Saturday at the Sailfish Brewing Co. in Fort Pierce, Florida for Labor Day weekend activities.

Tag & Release festival at the Sailfish Brewing Co.

The brewery hosted a Tag & Release Festival to announce the new can for its Tag & Release Amber Ale, a beer named after TBF’s global billfish tagging program. A watermelon eating contest was also on the agenda, as well as live music from two local groups. Patrons were able to visit TBF’s stand for a prize wheel spin or to enter the raffle. Numerous drawings throughout the day made for many happy winners – from a TBF humidor with cigars to a Yeti Tank, the prizes were worth much more than the $5 ticket!

TBF is thrilled to partner with like-minded groups who strive to support and sustain the ocean and fishing opportunities. Nick Bischoff, one of the founders of Sailfish Brewing Company, explains why this was a natural partnership, “The Billfish Foundation has made an impact on my life and has truly changed the sportfishing industry. The tag and release program has created a sense of duty for anglers to conserve these amazing species. TBF has been a part of our team since our inception, and this is our way to say ‘Thank you’ as well as share with and educate the public about this amazing organization. The passion and hard work TBF puts into conservation matches what we put into our beer, which makes our partnership a match made in heaven.”

Going forward, a portion of Sailfish Brewing’s sales from the Tag & Release Amber Ale cans will go toward TBF to support our work to conserve billfish stocks worldwide.

The post Sailfish Brewery Welcomes TBF At Tag & Release Festival appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

University Reputation at Stake With Swordfish Project in Closed Zone

TBF takes aim at longline research in Florida’s closed zone by targeting NOVA Southeastern University, where the permitted scientist works. NOVA’s reputation for community relations and science could be harmed by research project!

See the letter TBF sent to the university President below.

Support TBF by donating and joining today and stay up to date on news, events, and research by signing up for our newsletter here.

The post University Reputation at Stake With Swordfish Project in Closed Zone appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

NMFS Introduces Online Reporting System For Fishing Tournaments

An online reporting system will now be available for highly migratory species (HMS) fishing tournaments in the Atlantic Ocean, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced this week.

HMS tournament operators are required to register with NMFS whether targeting sharks, tunas, billfish, or swordfish. The tournaments must also keep records of anglers and the results, and may be required to send a catch report at the end of the event. All billfish tournaments are required to send the catch report.

Reporting is important for the management of the involved species as it helps to characterize a portion of the recreational fishing effort on the stocks, including the details of general location and targeted species. It also provides catch and landings data that are used in stock assessments and to update landings for national and international quota limits.

NMFS is now offering an online system through which tournaments can send these reports. Prior options included traditional mail, email, and fax. The online registration and reporting system also sends email confirmation when NMFS has reviewed an application or information and determined it is complete.

More on Atlantic HMS tournaments here.

The post NMFS Introduces Online Reporting System For Fishing Tournaments appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

InTheBite Magazine Presents Captain of the Year Award


One of the last billfishing competitions of the summer, the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament concluded this past weekend in Virginia Beach, VA.

The tournament hosted 75 teams this year for three days of fishing. First place went to Capt. Fin Gaddy of the Qualifier, who landed an 801 lb. blue marlin.

Also at the tournament was InTheBite magazine, who recognized an award winner. Elliott Stark, from InTheBite, presented Capt. Harvey Shiflet of Anticipation with the Captain of the Year Award, alongside mate Frank Riganto and boat owner Paul Coury.

The Billfish Foundation will be sponsoring this honor at next year’s tournament.

The post InTheBite Magazine Presents Captain of the Year Award appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Winner of Florida West Coast Bluewater Series Tags Every Billfish

The 46th Annual Old Salt Loop Billfish Tournament concluded in Clearwater, Florida this past weekend, wrapping up the Florida West Coast Bluewater Series (FWCBS) as it was the third and final leg of the series.

First Place Overall Series Winners for the FWCBS went to Twisted Bills, owner Ralph Munyan and crew: Captain RJ Schwab, Daniel Munyan, Robbie Munyan, Grant Johnston, Jason Lozeau, Hugh West and Hunter Gibson. The team was also awarded 1st Place Billfish Release Division and 1st Place Swordfish in the Loop Tournament.

But the most impressive distinction of their victory was that every one of the billfish caught by Twisted Bills successfully had the hooks removed then was tagged and released.

The FWCBS purchased tags from The Billfish Foundation for every vessel involved in the tournament and offered participants 10 points per tag for eligible species. TBF applauds the Series for generating conservation-minded competition.

Twisted Bills, winner of FWCBS, tagged each billfish they caught


Twisted Bills, winner of FWCBS, tagged each billfish they caught

The post Winner of Florida West Coast Bluewater Series Tags Every Billfish appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Rubio & Nelson Introduce Florida Fisheries Improvement Act

Earlier this month U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation designed to enhance and protect Florida’s fishery resources and those who rely on them. The Florida Fisheries Improvement Act comes with a number of changes to improve flexibility for management as well as stakeholder input.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)

“This bipartisan bill reflects the best ideas from Florida’s commercial, charter and recreational fishing communities, and would ensure federal fishing laws reflect the realities of our unique Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions while continuing to promote research and conservation efforts,” Rubio stated in a press release. “As Congress works towards a reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, I remain committed to ensuring Florida’s fisheries are well represented.”

“Florida is the fishing capital of the world,” said Nelson, “and this bill will help to ensure that this celebrated tradition is available for many more generations to come.”

A number of stakeholders from the fishing community support the proposed bill, including The Billfish Foundation. Our President, Ellen Peel, stated “The Billfish Foundation applauds the work of Senator Rubio in drafting the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act, which addresses real fisheries problems, including bringing more transparency and accountability to the Exempted Fishing Permit process.”

The proposed legislation came just before the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service to grant an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for a longline operation in the Florida east coast closed zone. The area has been closed to longlining for 16 years in order to protect juvenile swordfish as well as other billfish, sharks, and sea turtle species. Now, a researcher with conflicting interests will be allowed to use the gear in the area to determine whether the closure was successful and sell the fish caught in the process. TBF strongly opposes this decision and is gathering support to fight it—you can lend your voice here.

The Florida Fisheries Improvement Act proposes the following:

  • Give the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Regional Fishery Management Councils greater flexibility in setting rebuilding timelines for fisheries.
  • Include provisions to increase the availability of funding for stock assessments, surveys and data collection.
  • Require the Secretary of Commerce to create a stock assessment plan to better prioritize stock assessments and submit a report to Congress on how to improve data collection from fishermen and other stakeholders.
  • Include provisions to increase transparency and public involvement in the scientific and statistical committee process, as well as the consideration of experimental fishing permits.
  • Authorize the Councils to consider alternative management measures such as extraction rates or fishing mortality targets in fishery management plans to better reflect the different priorities of each industry.
  • Ensure nominations to the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils reflect the mixed nature of fishery stakeholders by ensuring commercial, charter and recreational fishermen are afforded the opportunity to be nominated.
  • Require the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to review the allocation process every five to eight years and directs the National Academy of Sciences to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator to assist in identifying what Councils should take into account when dealing with the allocation process.
  • Resolve inconsistencies between the Capital Construction Fund and Fisheries Finance Program;
  • Require the U.S. secretary of commerce to make fishery disaster designations within 90 days of receiving information from the state.
  • Exempt fisheries with a mean life cycle of less than 1 year or with spawning areas outside the United States, such as spiny lobster, from unnecessary rebuilding timelines.

Additional supporters of the bill include the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Southeastern Fisheries Association, American Sportfishing Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association, and Wild Ocean Seafood Market.

The post Rubio & Nelson Introduce Florida Fisheries Improvement Act appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Submit Comments on Allowing Longlines in Closed Zones to Florida Elected Officials!


Click here to submit comments to FL Senators Rubio and Nelson.

Click here to submit comments to your US & FL House representatives and FL State Senators.

Click here to submit comments to FL Governor Scott.

The Office of Highly Migratory Species (NMFS), a division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charged with conserving and responsibly managing highly migratory fish species reversed 16 years of conservation with their approval of an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) on August 10, 2017. The permit will allow pelagic longline boats back into the east coast closed zone to fish. Sixteen years ago the same agency closed the zone to protect juvenile swordfish, billfish, sea turtles and sharks; now the boats will kill and sell the conservation benefits. Unbelievable!

We cannot stand by and watch the east coast closed zone be wiped clean of conservation benefits, we need your help to contact your Senators and US Representatives now and if you haven’t yet, please join TBF.

We have made it easy for you to submit your comments to our FL Senators, US Representatives, FL State Senators, FL State Reps and FL Governor with a ready made template but feel free to modify it.

Thank you very much,


The post Submit Comments on Allowing Longlines in Closed Zones to Florida Elected Officials! appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Hypocrisy – Florida’s $7.6 Billion Dollar Recreational Fishing Industry Slapped by Federal Agency

After the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced today its approval of the Exempted Fishing Permit that allows longline boats to fish in Florida’s east coast closed zone, Ellen Peel, President of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said, “Florida anglers, all anglers who fish off Florida’s east coast and the recreational fishing industry should be irate at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Office of Highly Migratory Species for not valuing or respecting recreational fishing by their approval of the Exempted Fishing Permit, which allows longline boats to fish inside Florida’s East Coast Closed Zone.

Florida has more anglers than any other state in the nation, 2.4 million, and the related industry generates an economic impact of $7.6 billion dollars (2015/16) and supports 109,300 jobs! This is a slap in the face of all connected to recreational fishing in Florida especially after strong opposition was expressed by the industry and community participants. This decision could have a negative impact on Florida’s wide ranging marine tourism.

Peel added, “she was not surprised, though held out some hope, the NMFS would realize allowing longlines back into Florida’s east coast closed zone to land the conservation benefits accrued over 16 years of closure would be illogical. The NMFS has accommodated the one scientist at NOVA, who filed for the permit, project after project, regardless of prior results or inappropriateness of this project. The hypocrisy of the situation is blatant for the scientist, along with the owner of many of the longline boats that will fish in the zone, were part of a CNN interview in 2012 (see video here), in which they made the argument that longlining was not a clean gear and should be replaced by buoy gear. Now that the scientist and boat owner can sell the conservation benefits their story has changed. The longlines will kill billfish, swordfish, sharks and sea turtles. Be prepared, the NMFS, HMS may issue more restraints on recreational fishing so there will be more fish for the “research longlines” to kill if illogical thinking continues. Keep in mind that the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission opposed the permit being issued.”

The Billfish Foundation is the world’s leading science-based sportfishing conservation organization that advances research, education and advocacy for responsible management and conservation of billfish (marlin, sailfish, spearfish, swordfish) and other highly migratory fish, including tunas.

A map of the pelagic longline closed zone off Florida’s east coast (credit: NOAA)

The post Hypocrisy – Florida’s $7.6 Billion Dollar Recreational Fishing Industry Slapped by Federal Agency appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

2017 Atlantic Billfish Landings Remain Far Below Allocation

On Wednesday NOAA released preliminary numbers for Atlantic billfish landings in 2017. The estimates show individuals caught (and reported) thus far in 2017, from January 1st through June 30th, for blue and white marlin, roundscale spearfish, and western Atlantic sailfish.

As can be seen in the table below, much of the year’s allocated landings remain available. The Billfish Foundation applauds anglers for supporting the philosophy of catch and release fishing.

Atlantic billfish recreational landings through Quarter 2, 2017 (credit: NOAA)

The landings are compiled from self-reporting from anglers, tournament landings from the Recreational Billfish Survey (RBS), catch card reports from North Carolina and Maryland, and individual billfish intercepted by the Large Pelagic Survey (LPS) and Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). These estimates are subject to change due to late reporting and depend on the accuracy of the reporting entities.

The recreational billfish fishery is limited to 250 landings of Atlantic blue and white marlin and roundscale spearfish combined per year. Western Atlantic sailfish are not included in this limit.

The post 2017 Atlantic Billfish Landings Remain Far Below Allocation appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Will Not Be Listed As Endangered

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Tuesday that they rejected a petition to list the Pacific bluefin tuna as an endangered species.

A long list of environmental organizations combined efforts to submit a request in June 2016 for the species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. These groups are vastly disappointed in the decision, and argue that bluefin tuna—a luxury sushi item in high demand globally—are in fact endangered as their populations are at just 3 percent of what the stock once was.

Alternatively, The Billfish Foundation was glad to see that a highly prized game fish will remain accessible to recreational anglers. Although NMFS was considering the option of listing Pacific bluefin tuna on the ESA, the nation’s fishery service concluded after reviewing the petition and stock details that the species is on a positive trajectory. In 2013 the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which manages tunas and tuna-like species in the Pacific Ocean, adjusted the overall catch limit for bluefin, reducing the commercial catch for 40% as well as the recreational bag limit from 10 fish per day to two with a maximum of six fish.

It’s important to note that the Endangered Species Act is national legislation that only applies in the United States. While the bluefin tuna may have severely reduced populations, it is not likely that listing it under the ESA will result in any significant conservation as just five percent of the stock occurs in U.S. waters. High demand for the fish in other parts of the world (Japan, South Korea, etc.) is driving its declining numbers and high price. If conservation measures are to be implemented it must be done at the international level where those heavily fishing for bluefin can be controlled.

The post Pacific Bluefin Tuna Will Not Be Listed As Endangered appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

A Fishing Mess in Panama

photo courtesy of Trey Russo in Panama

When a Sea Shepherd boat cruised into Panama’s waters of the Coiba Special Zone of Marine Protection more than what meets the eye was at play. The U.S. environmental organization’s interest in the marine zone stems from their desire, like many other international environmental organizations, to see the resources protected, which to them means “no fishing.”

The Coiba National Park and Special Zone of Marine Protection were created by national legislation in 2004 (Law 44) with strong support from international environmental organizations. The legislation provided for an “innovative model of governance” that allowed representatives of environmental organizations to occupy voting seats on a management committee, along with representatives from several governmental departments. Adding to the uniqueness of the model, the environmental organizations pledged impressive sums of money to assure the establishment and implementation of conservation and management programs within the Park and zone would become a functioning reality. No seat on the Committee was designated for representatives of Panama’s sportfishing eco-tourism industry even though the industry generates millions of dollars into the nation’s economy each year. The industry’s economic value was documented in a socio-economic study the government of Panama (SENACYT – Center for Technology & Innovation) contracted with TBF to conduct. The nation’s Institute of Tourism occupies a voting seat on the Directive Committee and on the Commission for Sustainable Fishing in the Zone, but has not supported sportfishing.

Following the legislation came a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designation of the Park and Zone as a World Heritage Site in 2005. This came with additional scrutiny that conservation and management plans would be implemented and enforced, the failure of which could result in the status of the site being downgraded.

Communications between UNESCO and the government of Panama over management plans for the Zone dragged on for years. A review of the lengthy documents reflects that Panama does not desire their World Heritage site downgraded, yet government actions have done little to engender confidence that it can manage the sites responsibly. Panama did include a fishery management plan, dated 2013, in its 2017 State of the Conservation Report, Annex 8, to UNESCO. Currently, artisanal boats, industrial vessels and sportfishing boats can fish within some waters of the Site, but environmental organizations prefer no fishing be allowed while the government appears frozen.

Sea Shepherd’s visit drew much attention as they took photos of the rampant commercial fishing they witnessed in the Zone. No doubt those images were shared with UNESCO and sent around the world in hopes of generating international pressure on Panama.

A huge disconnect exists in Panama: on one hand desiring to receive international recognition for “world class” resource within its boundaries, meanwhile taking no apparent action to check commercial fishing. In 2015 the former fisheries manager criticized sportfishing in the local newspaper blaming the industry for “harm to… the marine biology”; TBF countered the allegations in a letter to the Editor. A new manager has been appointed, whether better or not is yet known.

Panama should not enjoy the benefits from a World Heritage Site designation nor should it benefit from the sportfishing eco-tourism trade dollars while allowing unregulated, unenforced and at times illegal fishing to continue in the waters of the Zone and beyond. Panama may be viewed in some international arenas as a progressive nation, yet in fishery management the evidence indicates a state of irresponsibility.

The post A Fishing Mess in Panama appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article

Which Way Will New Head of NMFS Sway On Longline Closed Zone?

Appointed in June with support from over 55 commercial fishing companies and organizations, the new Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has a number of pressing issues to attend. Chris Oliver, formerly Director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, has three decades of fisheries management experience ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska.

Now that NMFS has a new leader, a decision is approaching on whether to grant requested Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP) in the longline closed zone off Florida’s east coast.

The closed zone was created in response to the need to provide protection to juvenile swordfish in their nursery area and to reduce billfish bycatch. The area has been closed to longline fishing for 16 years. Those applying for an EFP to conduct longlining in the area hope to assess the progress that’s been made. The worry is that granting research permits will open the door to granting commercial fishing permits. TBF has maintained that eradicating the conservation progress made in those 16 years by once again allowing longlines is contradictory.

In his letter to stakeholders and partners, Oliver said he himself is an “avid sportsman, and appreciates the contributions of anglers to conservation and coastal economies.” This may be a positive for the recreational fishing community, and our interests in maintaining the closed zone off Florida’s east coast. However, the long list of commercial fishing interests who endorsed Oliver also raises concern that he may be inclined to approve the Exempted Fishing Permit to allow commercial fishing back in the closed zone.

The public comment period for this issue closed in March, so a decision is expected in the near future.

The post Which Way Will New Head of NMFS Sway On Longline Closed Zone? appeared first on The Billfish Foundation.

View Full Article