March 21, 2012
Editor's Note: You're not allowed to sell marlin and sailfish caught off Florida or in most other Atlantic waters, BUT many billfish are brought in from other areas. Too often Florida fish are mixed into the import lot, causing a loophole that hurts anglers and the general public.
A new bill in Congress would close that loophole. Most lawmakers are all for it. Just a few commercially oriented members have raised objections, claiming the law could trigger no-sale designations for other species. We don't think the feared spread is any real possibility, though in some cases it would be a positive move.
Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) offers the following input for Florida Sportsman's audience:
The Billfish Conservation Act (S. 1451 and HR 2706) would prohibit the sale of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the United States, while still allowing for traditional fisheries within the State of Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Area. Swordfish are not included in the prohibition.
The Billfish Conservation Act was introduced in both the Senate and the House with broad bi-partisan support. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party members, recreational fishing and environmental organizations alike have all provided enthusiastic endorsements.
Marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively called billfish, are some of the world's most majestic marine fish. They are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. Billfish are also highly esteemed by recreational anglers the world over, and catch-and-release fisheries for these species support many marine jobs and generate billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, particularly here in Florida.
Billfish are primarily caught as bycatch in non-U.S. commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries, but the bycatch is taken and sold internationally, with the United States serving as the world's largest importer of billfish. For nearly two decades, the U.S. has had a ban on the sale of Atlantic-caught billfish, yet no such ban exists for Pacific-caught billfish. This Pacific Ocean loophole also creates a black market for Atlantic-caught billfish because there is no way to effectively enforce the distinction. Other countries continue to sell billfish taken from the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to the U.S. through this loophole. The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 closes that loophole.
The commercial sale of billfish in the U.S. contributes very little to our commercial fishing industry. Billfish account for just 0.07% of the total annual revenue from all commercial fishing in the U.S. There are many sustainable alternatives for restaurants and retailers to offer in place of billfish; thus most restaurants have taken marlin and other billfish off the menu.
There is currently no real opposition to the bill. But, we need to light more of a fire under some feet because it has not had a hearing yet in either the U.S. House or Senate, and it is getting late in the calendar.
So, how do we do this?
One way to drive the bill forward is to have influential constituents pointedly weigh in with key Committee Members to get a commitment to move the bill through the committee and to the floor.
Although it is beneficial to contact all US Senators and Representatives, the politicians here in Florida are even more significant to moving this legislation forward.
The key Members of the US House are:
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced the bill and has the most to gain from its passage in the House
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) is a co-sponsor of the bill
Key Members of the US Senate are:
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is a co-sponsor of the bill
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a co-sponsor of the bill
The issue is quite simple, it is just being made complex by career bureaucrats in Washington DC. So I urge you to reach out to these senators and representatives, and to your other local Florida Representatives. Here is a link to the Take Marlin Off the Menu website where additional information can be found on the need for this important legislation.
Below, a sample letter you may send to Congressional leaders:
Dear Congressman or Senator (insert name of Representative or Senator):
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 it is already banned) are harvesting and then exporting to the US. This bill is of utmost importance to recreational fishermen throughout insert name of state and the country.
Thanks for all you do for the citizens of insert name of state and the United States.
Concerned Fisherman (include your name)