Larval Blue Marlin

The Wild Oceans Kona Project

By researching and understanding gaps in our knowledge of billfish life history, we can advance more successful domestic and international management strategies to protect and rebuild marlins.  The Wild Oceans Kona Project is a comprehensive effort to advance our understanding of the Kona Gyre eddy system in order to protect vulnerable spawning stocks.  Our ultimate goal is to achieve healthier billfish populations and better fishing opportunities for small boat fishermen and anglers across the Pacific.  Our project has three interconnected components: research, management and outreach.

Documenting the Kona Nursery

Research, arguably the most intriguing part of our project, will be led by Dr. Mike Musyl and his team. Dr. Musyl is the owner of Pelagic Research Group LLC. He is a recognized expert in Pop Up Satellite Archival Tags (PSAT) studies and methods to quantify post-release mortality in billfishes, sharks and turtles. He was awarded a Ph.D. in population genetics and fish ecology from the University of New England (New South Wales) and earned an M.A. in fisheries biology from the University of South Dakota.

Our research goals are to:

  • Search and summarize historical reports of billfish (istiophorid) larvae, habitat, and incidence of spawning activity. Meta-analysis will then be used to investigate the information along with variables, such as larval size, depth larvae were found and ocean parameters.
  • Develop oceanographic circulation models based on the meta-data compiled from the literature review to determine likely dispersal routes and connectivity of larval istiophorids from known spawning locations.
  • Determine peak spawning activity and abundance of larval cohorts of striped marlin as well as blue marlin and other istiophorid species using the meta-analysis and circulation models. Field collections will be used to confirm and identify other potential spawning sites near the Main Hawaiian Islands.
  • Investigate in-situ environmental factors to define larval habitat.
The “Kona Gyre” is the eddy system created in the lee of the “Big Island” of Hawai´i when trade winds and the equatorial current get squeezed through the channel that separates Hawai´i and the island of Maui (known as the Alenuihaha Channel) and wraps around South Point (which incidentally is not only the southernmost tip of the Big Island, but the southernmost point in the United States).  In the lee of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanos, they form a dynamic eddy system. Hawai´i is the largest “boulder in the stream” in the entire north Pacific Ocean and at over 4,000 square miles, you would have to go all the way across to the Philippines to find an island this large.  This “gyre” is the dominant eddy for more than 5,000 miles of open ocean, creating one of the most, if not THE most, important spawning grounds for a number of pelagic species in the Pacific.

Improving Pacific Billfish Management

Longlines, both deep-set and shallow-set, catch more marlin than any other fishing method. While most longliners do not target marlin, they are caught incidentally and kept and sold at market. The non-selectivity of industrial longlining is at the root of marlin population depletion. International and domestic efforts to reduce commercial catch of marlin rely exclusively on catch limits and have proven to be insufficient.

Primarily through the efforts of Wild Oceans Pacific Program Director Theresa Labriola, we will expand on the work that we have been engaged in for years to push for more effective management of billfish stocks in the Pacific. We will first begin by building a coalition of partners to advance domestic striped marlin management measures that address the U.S. relative impact on the overfished stock and to secure international support for a striped marlin rebuilding plan. We will then monitor the domestic and international rebuilding plans, identify measures to further improve the plans, and push to extend similar protections as needed to other Pacific billfish stocks, such as blue marlin. Finally, we will apply the information learned from our research to improve domestic and international management.

Project Updates:

Over 12,000 occurrences of billfish larvae in the Pacific have been collected from the literature, dating back as far as the 1950s. While there are still more data to pull and analyze from the existing literature, we have some exciting preliminary findings to share with you:

  • Large-scale surface net tow sampling by NOAA off the Kona Coast that targeted billfish eggs and larvae during 1997-2006 has collected several hundred larvae and eggs of swordfish, blue marlin and shortbill spearfish.
  • Evidence of striped marlin spawning in waters adjacent to the main Hawaiian Islands remained unknown until 2005 when seven larvae were collected off the Kona Coast of Hawaii Island.
  • Records of larvae less than five days old collected near Cross Seamount, approximately 150 nautical miles to the southwest of the Big Island of Hawaii, strongly suggest that spawning occurred nearby (i.e., in or near the Kona Gyre).
  • The data compiled and plotted to date clearly show the significance of the coastal and offshore waters surrounding Hawaii for billfish spawning!

Informing and Engaging our Community

We can generate the momentum needed to affect change by engaging others and communicating our findings through a variety of media. As part of this effort, we will disseminate our discoveries and engage partners and stakeholders. A comprehensive web-based platform will be used to centralize information on Pacific billfish stock status, domestic management, conservation measures and threats, current research, and future research needs. The platform will be our primary means of communicating with constituents, coalition partners and fishery managers (domestic and international). The website will also feature regular project updates.

Latest News

Press Release: Wild Oceans Welcomes IGFA to Kona Project

July 12, 2022 Wild Oceans welcomes the International Game Fish Association into collaborative Kona Billfish Nursery Project With a track record of successfully working together on billfish conservation going back decades with efforts such as the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign and the passage of the Billfish Conservation Act,  Wild Oceans is excited to...

Billfish Life Cycle: Unraveling the Mystery

Billfish, a family of fishes that includes marlin, sailfish and spearfish, are as mysterious as they are majestic.  Sadly, they are also among the most threatened fish in the ocean as a result of decades of overfishing by commercial fleets on the high seas.  Wild Oceans has been dedicated to "Bringing Back the Big Fish"...


March 7, 2022 A New Effort to Better Understand and Protect Depleted Billfish Stocks Launches in the Pacific With nearly fifty years experience working to conserve large open-ocean predators, Wild Oceans (formerly the National Coalition for Marine Conservation) has just launched an exciting new effort to protect billfish in the Pacific Ocean.  The Wild Oceans…