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August 18, 2010

Billfish Conservation Act of 2010 introduced to US Congress

Congress considers ending trade in billfish
By Ncmc

Here's where you can send a letter to voice your support


A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has introduced legislation that would take some of the ocean's most majestic fish out of seafood markets and off restaurant menus throughout the United States. The Billfish Conservation Act of 2010 (HR5804), introduced July 21st, would prohibit the commercial harvest, sale and importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively known as "billfish", to give them added protection from overfishing.

Original co-sponsors of HR 5804 are Representatives John Shadegg (R-AZ), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA).

Marlin and other billfish, top predators in the ocean food chain, are among the biggest and fastest fish in the sea, topping 1,000 pounds and swimming at speeds over 60 mph. But they are also among the most threatened. Commercial overfishing has reduced their populations to dangerously low levels in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

"By overfishing billfish, we risk damaging the ocean food web in ways we may not be able to repair," says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC). "Taking marlin and other billfish out of the commercial market in the U.S., which this bill will do, is a necessary step toward giving these magnificent fish the protection they deserve."

In the U.S., marlin and sailfish are highly esteemed by recreational anglers, who practice catch-and-release fishing while generating substantial income to the economy. Billfish are only a bycatch in U.S. commercial fisheries. It is currently illegal to harvest or import Atlantic billfish into the U.S., but Pacific-caught fish come into U.S. markets in substantial numbers. In fact, according to a study commission by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the U.S. is the world's number one importer of billfish, buying about 3 million pounds of marlin in 2006 - or between 10,000 and 15,000 fish a year - for sale in restaurants and grocery stores.

"Billfish are simply not good candidates for sustained commercial harvesting," says Rob Kramer, IGFA president. IGFA and NCMC co-founded the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign in 2008 to make consumers aware of the commercial threat to billfish and to recruit restaurants and retailers to take a "marlin-free" pledge.

"More billfish left in the water translates to healthier oceans and greater economic benefit to all of those who depend on our ocean resources," says Kramer. "This bill will close the current loophole allowing for the sale of Pacific-caught billfish in the U.S. and help ensure that we have healthier stocks for generations to come."

Among groups supporting the Billfish Conservation Act of 2010, in addition to NCMC and IGFA, are the Center for Coastal Conservation and the Coastal Conservation Association.

Backers say the legislation will have a negligible economic impact on the commercial industry in the U.S. and could even generate new economic benefits. Billfish are not a target species and modifications in fishing gear can reduce billfish bycatch while increasing the target catch of tuna and other marketable species. Increasing billfish abundance will enhance the value of the recreational fishery, which brings in billions of dollars but has an insignificant impact on the resource.