One of the great success stories in federal fisheries management, bringing back swordfish populations from the brink by closing an area of the Atlantic in U.S. waters, may well be undone with the recent NMFS decision to allow longline fishing once again in this conservation area.
The decision announced by the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Highly Migratory Species to allow pelagic longline boats back into Florida’s east coast closed zone may very well wipe out 16 years of conservation benefits accrued while the waters were closed to the gear. That is contrary to the agency’s responsibility to manage and conserve marine resources responsibly.
The government’s stated rationale for this decision is “to collect data to determine whether the closure was effective.” Well, it doesn’t take a genius to know the answer: Of course prohibiting longline gear from these waters has meant that no swordfish, billfish, sharks or sea turtles were killed by longlines in the closed zone, and the absence of the gear benefitted the ecosystem. The most recent stock assessment for North Atlantic swordfish, while not yet officially released, indicates that the stock abundance is still in good shape, which is good news. If this experimental “research fishery” continues, we’re very likely to see a decline in juvenile swordfish numbers once again, and without them, reduced recruitment into the fishery.
The irony of the situation deepens when one views the 2012 CNN Special Interest segment showcasing the commercial longline fishery “adapting to cleaner fishing practices” – that means buoy gear. The stars of the report included the scientist who will receive…