On Sunday, October 7th, President Obama made it illegal to import sailfish, marlin and spearfish into the continental United States. The Billfish Conservation Act (S. 1451 & H.R. 2706) legislated the close of U.S. commercial markets to the sale of Pacific billfish in order to conserve future populations and ensure the viability of coastal economies that benefit from sportfishing.
In early June, the International SeaKeepers Society sent letters to Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in support of the Act. We voiced our opposition to the sale of Pacific billfish in the continental U.S., Hawaii and Pacific Insular Areas and urged future legislation to protect billfish species outside of the continental U.S. The protection of both Atlantic and Pacific Billfish is economically critical in terms of eco-tourism, viability of our recreational fisheries and the health of our global marine ecosystem.
Commercial overfishing, primarily by foreign nations, depletes stocks of billfish in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Many U.S. citizens consume Pacific billfish unaware that multitudes of billfish populations worldwide are on the verge of collapse. SeaKeepers applauds President Obama’s efforts to keep these species in the water and out of the consumer market.
Billfish are some of the most highly regarded gamefish for anglers to pursue in waters at home and around the world. The pursuit of billfish and the supporting fishing and boating industries comprise a huge and positive economic force for the U.S. and other countries with recreational billfish fisheries. Even so, most nations do not provide significant protections for billfish.
Legislation protecting future viability of Atlantic billfish is currently in place. The Atlantic Billfish Fishery Management Plan (50 CFR 644) not only bans the harvest of Atlantic billfish by U.S. commercial fishing vessels, but also prohibits the implementation and sale of Atlantic billfish within the U.S. Prior to SUnday, this was not the case for Pacific billfish.
According to the Billfish Foundation, the U.S. consumer market provided economic incentives for nations to harvest Pacific billfish for shipment and sale within the U.S. As a result, the U.S. is presently the largest importer of Pacific blue marlin. We at SeaKeepers hope that the Billfish Conservation Act will change these statistics; however, many consider the law rather weak as it only covers the continental U.S. Nonetheless, the Act should reduce the total harvest of Pacific billfish worldwide and ensure a greater abundance of billfish in the marine environment to support healthy oceanic ecosystems and recreational fishing opportunities.