Should It Be Legal to Ship Billfish Harvested in Hawaii to the Mainland U.S.?

Billfish Conservation Act banned the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish into the continental United States, but the National Marine Fisheries Service is trying to figure out Hawaiian-caught billfish.

April 21, 2014

It’s been a year and a half since President Obama signed the Billfish Conservation Act (BCA) into law. This historic piece of legislation bans the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish into the continental United States and also takes away our dubious distinction of being the world’s largest importer of billfish.

This effort took nearly four years of blood, sweat and tears for IGFA and our partner Wild Oceans but, in the end, things worked out. You’d think that that since the act was signed into law that I wouldn’t really have anything to write about on this subject. However, such is not the case.

You see, now the BCA is on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) plate. It’s NMFS’s job to develop a rule for the law so they can implement it, which—in my simple mind at least—shouldn’t be that complicated. The BCA’s language is straightforward in that it strictly prohibits the importation and sale of billfish in the continental United States, but still allows traditional harvest and sale within the Hawaiian Islands.


What NMFS is trying to figure out, ever so slowly, is if the BCA legally allows billfish harvested in Hawaii to be shipped to the mainland U.S. We say that it does not and for three pretty good reasons:

  1. Prohibiting importation from foreign countries but allowing Hawaii to ship billfish to the mainland most likely violates international trade treaties.
  2. The BCA was passed to conserve billfish—NOT to supplant a sizeable foreign billfish market with a domestic one.
  3. Allowing Hawaii to ship billfish to the mainland necessitates NMFS developing a certificate of eligibility mechanism that allows it to differentiate between foreign and domestic billfish. Doing so would cost money and create work; two things no bureaucracy relishes.

Last October, I was informed that NMFS might have a proposed rule by early 2014. Unfortunately, it now looks like this won’t occur till near the end of the year. There is some good news, however! Until a final rule is made, NMFS is interpreting the BCA as a complete prohibition on billfish sale in the continental U.S., regardless if it comes from the Hawaiian Islands.

So, until NMFS tells us otherwise, you shouldn’t be seeing any marlin, sailfish or spearfish in your markets or restaurants. If you do, let us know. We’ll be happy to issue a letter to the offending establishment that politely but clearly lets them know that billfish belong in the sea and not for sale in the mainland U.S., and that’s the law.


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