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October 26, 2001

Swordfish Rebuilding

Current plans to rebuild migratory fish are insufficient.

Q: As a fourth-generation fisherman in the Northeast, I do my part to rebuild our tuna and swordfish stocks by abiding by the increasingly heavy restrictions placed on us by the fishery management councils. My question is: Since these are highly migratory fish, how many are we in the United States catching compared with the numbers caught by fishermen of other countries? - Tony F., Nantucket, Massachusetts

A: Rebuilding stocks of highly migratory species requires international as well as domestic action, says Jim Chambers of the Highly Migratory Species division of the National Marine Fisheries Service. According to their estimates, the U.S. domestic fleet currently catches 29 percent of the north Atlantic swordfish landings, 52 percent of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna quota, 5 percent of Atlantic yellowfin tuna landings and 1 percent of the Atlantic bigeye catch. The U.S. also kills 5 percent of Atlantic blue marlin and 11 percent of white marlin landings. Both billfish species are considered overfished.
New recommendations for regulating highly migratory species, currently being formed, attempt to increase overfished stocks rather than simply maintaining them at current levels. For example, the biomass (total weight) of western Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks is estimated to be only between 6 and 12 percent of desired levels, while swordfish stocks have declined to 58 percent of target levels. More information on management of these species is available from the NMFS Highly Migratory Species Management Division in Silver Spring, Maryland; 301-713-2347.