The Barbaric Method

The Barbaric Method
Most reliable studies reveal that the average swordfish landed today isn?t mature enough to even spawn yet. This is a sure sign that the population is in trouble. Although catches of swordfish have dropped sixty percent since 1994, commercial fisherman continue to harvest swordfish either targeted or as by-catch via miles and miles of unattended, baited hooks connected by a common line that?s hauled in periodically by a vessel ? a process known as long lining.
For years saltwater anglers have been calling for government action to stop the damaging by-kill and over fishing impacts of commercial longlines. Billfish are protected by federal law against commercial fisherman; however, commercial longlines cause the overwhelming majority of fishing mortalities for billfish in United States waters: 98% of sailfish, 95% of Atlantic white marlin and 85% of Atlantic blue marlin. Now day?s tournaments in which billfish are killed are looked down upon, but the real problem isn?t the sport fisherman. They are most definitely not the people responsible for depleted stocks of all billfish. And most significantly, swordfish.
In 1960, most swordfish caught in the North Atlantic weighed over 250 pounds. Today, three decades after the emergence of an indiscriminate fishing method called long lining, the average North Atlantic swordfish caught weighs just 90 pounds. And with over half the North Atlantic swordfish caught too young to breed, the population is seriously in
In 1999 the National Resources Defense Council, (nrdc), and several other groups filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (nmfs) for its failure to take action to protect juvenile swordfish. Under an agreement reached with nmfs, the agency agreed to issue a proposed rule in December 1999. The rule would close almost 200,000 square miles in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to long line fishing in order to protect baby swordfish and other ocean wildlife. The government will consider public comment on the rule until March 1, 2000. A final rule is due May 1.
As the U.S. swordfish boycott begins and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (iccat) quotas are lowered long liners targeting of North Atlantic swordfish diminishes. This is causing unprecedented pressure on swordfish worldwide, particularly on Pacific populations and South Atlantic populations. Both are declining rapidly as has the North Atlantic population, according to Jim Chambers of Chambers and Associates, a marine fisheries consulting firm.
Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service for the past five years show a great jump in U.S. swordfish imports, according to Fish Unlimited (FU): In 1995, the total was over 10 million pounds. By 1997, that had jumped almost 300 percent to over 34 million pounds. The figure increased still more in 1998 and decreased slightly last year, but was still up about 250 percent from 1995 levels.
Particularly worrisome to FU?s Bill Smith is the new category of ?frozen fillets? which opened up new avenues for swordfish importation: Almost half of the huge totals in 1997 and 1998 were in fact frozen fillets, most from Singapore. Also, most of the fresh swordfish came from the Pacific as well. An estimated forty- percent of these Pacific swordfish are actually caught in the Atlantic by countries that are not affiliated with the iccat. They are then passed along through countries on the Pacific Ocean that have not met their quota and sold as Pacific swordfish.
By almost any measure, Atlantic swordfish are seriously over fished. The population biomass is well below the level necessary to produce maximum sustainable yield, East Coast commercial landings have dropped by half in the last decade, and the once-thriving recreational fishery for swordfish is now virtually extinct. The average-size swordfish caught today (around 90 pounds) is only a third of that caught in the 1960?s and well short of the reproductive size in females (150 pounds). These are the hallmarks of a depleted population ? a serious problem in need of serious solutions.
The good news is that swordfish are extremely prolific at reproducing and a total ban of commercial longlines would enable the swordfish to establish healthy levels in as short a period as five years. The only reason this barbaric type of fishing is still allowed is because fish are not considered animals. Pictures of countless fish left for dead does not invoke the emotion that a single mammal does. In Alaska, for example, a closure of long lining was initiated because of the effect on the leatherback sea turtle, a mammal. It is estimated that long liners in this area kill five to ten turtles every year. And even though any closure is a good closure the thousands of whale sharks (sharks, not mammals) that are killed in this area each year were given no respect until the turtle population began to show small signs of depletion.
In conclusion, the plans in effect right now are just not enough to end this terrible tragedy from continuing. It is impossible to regulate the entire world. But it is possible to ban this type of fishing in our country. While closures and quotas are steps in the right direction only a complete ban for at least five years will fully energize the populations of swordfish and allow scientists to study the effects of having waters free of gluttonous trappers. Hopefully, one-day fish will get the respect given to animals and treated as living things. These fish are wild creatures. They are not born and bred to be table fare, but we treat them that way.

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