Billfish Still Need a Break

March 29, 2012

It’s a travesty — legislation that would finally stop the sale of tens of thousands of billfish in the United States each year has almost unanimous support. Yet The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 has stalled out in the House and its companion action in the Senate.

A good reminder of this legislation’s importance and why a bill with virtually no opposition isn’t progressing, plus what we can do to get it moving to the floor for a vote can be found in this appeal from Ken Hinman at the National Coalition of Marine Conservation:

Help Stop the Sale of Billfish
New Bill Has Board Support, So What’s the Hold-Up?


The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 would help stop the killing of billfish that is taking place in Central America and other Pacific Rim countries. Fishermen from these countries are selling their billfish to the United States – an estimated 30,000 marlin and sailfish each year – even though the U.S. itself has no commercial fishery targeting billfish and we banned the harvest of billfish by our own commercial fishermen on the east and west coasts years ago.

Imports are undermining U.S. efforts to conserve these magnificent fish, so threatened by commercial overfishing on the high seas, so valuable to our recreational catch-and-release fishery here at home.

“The Billfish Conservation Act has strong bipartisan support because it’s good for the economy and good for the environment,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC), a leader of the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign. “The ban on sales of billfish is endorsed by everyone from Tea Party Republicans to liberal Democrats, the sport fishing industry and leading environmental groups. It’s the kind of bill that should sail through Congress.”


The Billfish Conservation Act (HR 2706) was introduced by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and today has 24 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. A companion bill (S. 1451) was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and that bill also has broad bipartisan support. (See list of co-sponsors below)

While the bill has generated a great deal of momentum, it is currently stalled due to Washington, D.C. bureaucrats wrongly concerned about setting a precedent for giving “Game Fish” status to other species and harming commercial fishing interests. But the plight billfish face is unique. There hasn’t been a commercial fishery for billfish in the U.S. (outside of Hawaii, whose local market is exempted) for more than two decades and the benefits to continuing to import billfish to our highly elastic seafood industry are virtually non-existent. Banning the sale of imported billfish in the U.S. does not disenfranchise any U.S. commercial fishermen. Instead it reinforces existing U.S. fishery management plans on both the east and west coasts that prohibit commercial fishing for billfish.

“We Need to Light a Fire” in Congress


“There is currently no real opposition to the bill,” says Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), a partner in Take Marlin Off the Menu. “But we need to light more of a fire under some members because the bill has not had a hearing yet in either the House or Senate, and it is getting late in the shortened Congressional session.”

So, how do we do this? One way to drive the bill forward is to have constituents pointedly weigh in with key Committee Members to get a commitment to move the bill through the committee and to the floor for a vote.

Although it is beneficial to contact all U.S. Senators and Representatives, the key Members of the House are:


Rep. Doc Hasting (R-WA) Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee;
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) Chairman of the Fisheries Subcommittee to the Natural Resources Committee
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) He introduced the bill and has the most to gain from its passage
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also much to gain from passage

Key Members of the Senate are:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa) Chairman of the Commerce Committee;
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) He introduced the bill for us and has the most to gain from its passage
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also has much to gain from its passage;
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) He is a co-sponsor of the bill and also has much to gain from its passage.

We urge you to reach out to these senators and representatives, and to your own Congressmen. Below is a short sample letter you may send to Congressional leaders:

Dear Congressman or Senator (insert name of Representative):

I write for two reasons. The first reason is to thank you for all you are doing for the people of insert name of state. I appreciate your public service.

Second, and more specifically, I write to endorse HR 2706 (or S. 1451 if writing to a Senator), the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011, and I am hopeful that you can quickly arrange a hearing, and secure passage, of this important legislation. Billfish populations—marlin, sailfish and spearfish—are in terrible shape because a few countries (not the US, where commercial sale is already banned) are harvesting billfish and then exporting to the US. This bill will help protect these magnificent fish, top ocean predators essential to a healthy ocean, while improving recreational fishing opportunities where fishing for billfish is almost entirely catch-and-release and play a positive economic role in generating jobs.

Thanks for all you do for the citizens of insert name of state and the United States.

Best Regards, ________________________________________

Original Sponsors and Co-sponsors in the House and Senate

Sponsor: Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1]
Rep Alexander, Rodney [LA-5]
Rep Bonner, Jo [AL-1]
Rep Boren, Dan [OK-2]
Rep Buchanan, Vern [FL-13]
Rep Coble, Howard [NC-6]
Rep Diaz-Balart, Mario [FL-21]
Rep Duncan, Jeff, [SC-3]
Rep Flores, Bill [TX-17]
Rep Harris, Andy [MD-1]
Rep Heinrich, Martin [NM-1]
Rep Landry, Jeffrey M. [LA-3]
Rep Latta, Robert E. [OH-5]
Rep Michaud, Michael H. [ME-2]
Rep Napolitano, Grace F. [CA-38]
Rep Palazzo, Steven M. [MS-4]
Rep Pierluisi, Pedro R. [PR]
Rep Rivera, David [FL-25]
Rep Rooney, Thomas J. [FL-16]
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-18]
Rep Ross, Mike [AR-4]
Rep Shuler, Heath [NC-11]
Rep Southerland, Steve [FL-2]
Rep Wittman, Robert J. [VA-1]
Rep Young, Don [AK]

Sponsor: Sen. David Vitter (LA)
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA]
Sen Cantwell, Maria [WA]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI]
Sen Wicker, Roger F. [MS]


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