After four years of work, recreational anglers and ocean conservationists can today celebrate a rare feat: the Billfish Conservation Act passed the Senate and is now headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature. Very few bills have become law this Congress due to partisan disagreements, but the Billfish Conservation Act has been overwhelmingly supported by both parties in both chambers. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) sponsored the original bill in the Senate, and with the help of Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), they worked magic to get it passed.
The support of these key Congressmen has bolstered the campaign to conserve imperiled billfish species that the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) began in 2008. Their joint effort to urge the United States to take stronger action to protect these valuable and magnificent fish has also raised awareness in fishing communities on the importance of recreational angling in the country’s – and the world’s – economies.
Rob Kramer, President of the IGFA, said: “Our congressional champions–especially Senator David Vitter, Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL)–are absolute heroes to recreational anglers. In addition, the leadership and members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus have been a uniting and driving force toward enactment of this important legislation since day one. The Billfish Conservation Act will help turn the tide on rapidly declining stocks of sailfish, marlin and spearfish. This is great news for recreational anglers and for people working in tourism, sportfishing and marine businesses.”
According to Ken Hinman, President of the NCMC, “The U.S. already has the world’s strongest conservation measures in place for billfish, the lions and tigers of the sea. This legislation will help us seek similar measures internationally, where commercial overfishing has severely depleted populations of these magnificent ocean giants.”
The successful progression of the bill in the 112th Congress has also come with the help of several other recreational fishing organizations including the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Keep America Fishing and numerous other NGOs from the environmental community.
“The assistance of these groups and their members has been vital to the Billfish Conservation Act,” Kramer also said. “The voice of the sport fishing community has been loud in Washington, and we are thankful to the bill’s supporters for making it heard.”
The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), and Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK).
In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA), and co-sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It prohibits the sale of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the United States, while still allowing for traditional fisheries within the State of Hawaii 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 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 by-catch in non-U.S. commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries, but the by-catch is harvested and sold internationally, with the United States serving as the world’s largest importer of billfish.
There are many sustainable alternatives for restaurants and retailers to offer in place of billfish; thus most restaurants have taken marlin and other billfish off the menu.