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Save the Mahi: Petition for New Dolphin Regulations

We demand that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council institute new conservation measures for dolphin (mahi) NOW

Save the Mahi: Petition for New Dolphin Regulations

The age-old tactic of leaving a hooked dolphin in the water to attract others may no longer work... if there aren’t other dolphin in the water. 

We demand that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council institute new conservation measures for dolphin (mahi) NOW.

The total recreational catch, using NOAA’s estimates of the total recreational catch show a decline of over two million fish from 2015 to 2020.  A decrease of around 68%, going from three million to just over million fish in 2020, with preliminary numbers for 2021 forecasted to go even lower.

And, commercial landings in pounds have also dropped more than 70% over approximately the same period.  From 2015 to 2020, landings dropped 661,092 pounds.  And just from 2019 to 2020 there was a 311,659-pound drop, in ONE YEAR.  That reduction is more than the entire 2020 catch total of 259,680 pounds.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), headquartered in Charleston, S.C., is responsible for the conservation and management of fish stocks within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West.

graphs of recreational and commercial fishing catches of dolphin, aka mahi
A clear trend is happening, and it's not looking good for one of the most valuable fisheries in the world. Recreational landings on top, Commercial on bottom.

Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) to protect marine fish stocks with requirements to prevent and stop overfishing, minimize bycatch, and protect habitat.

The SAFMC has failed to act to stop the overfishing of dolphin (mahi) and we strongly urge the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, National Marine Fishery Service and the United States Department of Commerce to implement a recreational bag/vessel limit of 10 per angler/30 max per vessel, a 20-inch minimum size limit and an all-season 2,000-pound commercial trip limit in the dolphinfish fishery in U.S. Atlantic, Gulf, Puerto Rican and Caribbean waters.

The petition calls for:

  • Reduce the boat limit for mahi from a proposed 54 fish to 30 fish
  • Create a 2,000-pound commercial trip limit
  • Maintain the current 10-fish per angler bag limit
  • Implement a 20-inch minimum for all areas it doesn’t already exist.


The dolphinfish (mahi-mahi), an essential gamefish, is the foundation for all offshore fishing. We rely heavily upon the species to drive tourism from throughout the nation and even the world. Saltwater anglers in Florida alone provide an annual benefit of nearly $9 billion to the U.S. economy.

Currently, U.S. and Caribbean commercial vessels can target and land unlimited quantities of dolphinfish on pelagic longline gear. According to Highly Migratory Species logbook data, the average number of hooks used to target dolphinfish in recent years on pelagic longline gear in the U.S. is more than 1,100 hooks per line.

dolphin landings charts
Long-term trends show a concerning pattern. Each section represents five year averages of mahi landings, dating back to 1990. Graph created in 2020 for an issue of Florida Sportsman

Again, we urge the Council to implement these new regulations and the dolphinfish (mahi-mahi) be placed under sound sustainable management before overfishing causes a collapse of the fishery.

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