Longline Fishing Threatens Atlantic Swordfish

Federal Decision to Allow Longline Fishing Threatens Atlantic Swordfish. 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. 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. So much for “adapting to clean fishing practices.” Instead, they adapted to satisfying the bureaucrats enough to authorize longliners to fish in a conservation zone and sell the fish. "As anglers and conservationists, we must continue to push our case to reverse this misguided decision." A federal agency just made a decision to threaten all of this by authorizing an experiment antithetical to conservation. The rationale to re-open waters closed to longliners holds that “if the conservation goals of the time-area closures have been achieved, then these closures should be reopened to the fishery.“ This means that if the bureaucrats feel the “experimental research” is successful, then the whole closed zone may be opened for longline fishing throughout. Ellen Peel has served as president of The Billfish Foundation for 21 years, helping TBF advance conservation and responsible management of marlin, swordfish, sailfish and spearfish. from the University of West Florida, a J.D.
underwater shot of a swordfish

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…

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