TBF seeks angler input

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With an Aug. 31 deadline for the voicing of comments on reducing the bycatches of billfish and bluefin tuna by commercial longliners, The Billfish Foundation is asking the help of the recreational fishing communities, especially on the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts.

"The highest level of marlin bycatch in the U.S. is caught by U.S. pelagic longline vessels in the Gulf," said Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation. "We're asking for the U.S. Government to close off commercial longlining from March to September, during the period of the highest incidence of bycatch of marlin and spawning bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic marlin are seriously overfished but spawning bluefin tuna are worse off.

"TBF is pleased the National Marine Fisheries Service is willing to consider practical changes to the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. But comments must be in by Monday, Aug. 31, so we don't have much time. We're trying to get an extension of the comment period to build more awareness for billfish and tuna and the need for the closure.

"We have more background on the situation on the TBF web site (billfish.org)," she said. "We're simply asking anglers to take just 10 to 15 minutes to read it and then to copy the attached letters, modify them as they see fit and email it by Aug. 31 to the NMFS, USFWS and also to their U.S. Congressmen and Senators."

Peel said it's time that the recreational billfishing community, which also fishes for tunas in the Gulf and Atlantic, is recognized for its economic impact and that its voluntary conservation ethic is appreciated.

"Now is the time for anglers and conservationists to demand much needed reductions in the bycatch mortality of Atlantic marlin and bluefin tuna in the Gulf and a CITES (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species) listing to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna throughout their range," Peel said. "We are hoping to significantly improve the management plan of Atlantic billfish and other highly migratory fish vital to supporting a large sportfishing and tourism industry in the region."

She said there are a number of positives in implementing a seasonal, time and area closure to longlining in the Gulf.

"It will be a win-win for billfish, bluefin tuna, sea turtles, sharks, sportfishing and many fisheries' dependent businesses," she said. "A transition to more responsible commercial fishing gear is needed for severely overfished stocks cannot withstand the high rate of mortality, so until that time, a time and area closure provides a reasonable option. Responsible management practices must begin to give bycatch species equal management and conservation priority as given to targeted commercial species."

Established in 1986 by the late Winthrop P. Rockefeller, The Billfish Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated solely to conserving and enhancing billfish populations worldwide.

With world headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., TBF's comprehensive network of members and supporters includes anglers, captains, mates, tournament directors, clubs, sport fishing and tourism businesses.

By coordinating efforts and speaking with one voice, the organization works for solutions that are good for billfish, not punitive to recreational anglers and good for the local economy.