The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will reject a proposal by longline swordfish fishing boats to conduct fisheries research in areas that have been closed to longlining since 1999. Fierce opposition to the proposal by Oceana, recreational anglers and others heavily influenced the decision, according to the Fisheries Service.
“We are pleased that the National Marine Fisheries Service has rejected this plan,” said Courtney Sakai, Director of Oceana’s Stop Dirty Fishing campaign. “These zones were established to reduce the accidental catch of juvenile swordfish, tuna, and billfish, and they’ve served that purpose well. Allowing this proposal to move forward would have been a major setback to our successful efforts to rejuvenate these fish populations.”
U.S. longliners in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico set millions of baited hooks each year to catch swordfish and other large fish species. In the process, thousands of juvenile swordfish, tuna, marlin, marine mammals, sea turtles and other sea life are caught as bycatch – the unintended catch that is often thrown back to sea either dead or severely injured. In 1999, the first of five areas in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico was closed by the federal government to reduce this harmful waste. Bycatch of swordfish, blue and white marlin has significantly decreased in these areas since the five closures took effect.
Recent developments in fishing technology have allowed fishermen throughout the world to catch more of their target catch and less bycatch. For example, experiments in other parts of the Atlantic have shown that using large circle hooks, with the hook point curved inward, can significantly reduce bycatch of threatened and endangered sea turtles compared to traditional j-hooks.
“Oceana strongly supports sound scientific research to use fishing gear technology like circle hooks to reduce bycatch,” said Sakai. “But decisions to open sensitive areas to longline fishing should be carefully considered and weighed against their potential costs. We commend the Fisheries Service for its careful consideration and rejection of this proposal, which lacked sound alternatives to do experiments in open areas and only offered a hazy description of the experiments themselves.”