Fishing organizations set for lively marlin battle

Fishing organizations set for lively marlin battle . The Recreational Fishing Alliance and the Jersey Coast Anglers Association are gearing up for still another fight with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The service has proposed a moratorium on the landing of white marlin by anglers, but has done nothing to reduce bycatch by longliners in areas of heavy marlin concentration.

Further, the NMFS has proposed that the Atlantic billfish fishery management plan, which is strictly for the recreational fishery, be consolidated with the highly migratory species fishery management plan that includes tuna, swordfish and sharks.

James A. Donofrio, executive director of the RFA, said the organization is opposed to the catch-and-release fishery for white marlin effective from Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2011.

“Anglers have adopted a very strong, voluntary conservation ethic where white marlin catch and release rates are already 99 percent,” he said.

“The entire U.S. recreational fleet landing a few white marlin every year, merely 227 total fish over the last three years, has little or no impact on the stock, but generates tremendous social and economic benefits for coastal communities where tournaments are held.”

Donofrio said the RFA supports eliminating the cap of 250 marlin as an unnecessary and futile attempt to restore marlin stocks impacted by commercial fishing the world over.

“Mandating this cap when low marlin landings were already driven by a strong, voluntary conservation ethic was irrelevant in reducing overall marlin mortality,” he pointed out.

“NMFS’s own analysis finds that the ecological benefits of this alternative are likely to be limited.”

Donofrio said the RFA is troubled that NMFS has never implemented a time and area closure to pelagic drift longline fishing specifically to reduce blue and white marlin or sailfish bycatch even though high levels of bycatch occur.

“NMFS must significantly reduce marlin bycatch by closing areas to longlining where and when the most bycatch continues to occur,” he stressed.

John Koegler, chairman of the large pelagic committee of the JCAA, said NMFS’s proposed changes would, if adopted, affect recreational, general category and charter boat highly migratory permit holders next season.

“These are devastating proposals to U.S. fishermen both economically and recreationally,” he said. “NMFS states that there will be little effect on recreational fishing and business.

“Common sense indicates a huge major impact on recreational fishing and business, and no measurable international impact on the recovery of either blue or white marlin.”

Donofrio said another NMFS proposal that would limit all Atlantic billfish tournament participants to using only non-offset circle hooks when using natural baits or natural bait-artificial lure combinations is also unacceptable.

“While the RFA supports the continued conservation ethic that has resulted in 99 percent catch-and-release rates for billfish, we are opposed to making the use of circle hooks mandatory,” he said.

“NMFS has outlined several preferred alternatives for new regulations that aim to put further restrictions on recreational anglers while largely giving the commercial pelagic longline fleet a free pass,” Donofrio said.

Koegler pointed out that the proposal would include the elimination of the billfish management advisory board that has a major impact on proposed rules changes, especially on the recreational fishery.

Two public hearings on the proposals will be held in New Jersey. One will be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 29 at Cape May Township Hall, 2600 Bayshore Rd., Villas, and the other will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Barnegat Light First Aid squad building, West 10th St., Barnegat Light.

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