The billfishes, swordfish and tunas, along with dolphin-fish, wahoo and other pelagic species, support valuable recreational and commercial fisheries in many coastal regions. But studies suggest that populations of big ocean fish, including bluefin and bigeye tuna, swordfish, the marlins and many oceanic sharks, may have declined as much as 90 percent over the last 50 years. Efforts to restore them have been hindered in large part due to the non-selective nature of the fishing gears and methods used to target these fish commercially.
Some would contend that it is how many fish you catch, not how you catch them, that’s important to sustaining fish populations. But this misconception ignores a half-century of evidence to the contrary. Our collective experience with non-selective fishing gears is this:
- Excessive bycatch and waste, resulting in one-quarter of the global catch being discarded as unwanted, prohibited or protected species;
- An inability to effectively control fishing mortality for any single species in a fishery that opportunistically targets and catches multiple species;
- Destructive impacts on marine life and the ability of fishermen and coastal fishing communities to survive, much less thrive; and,
- Disproportionate management and regulatory costs imposed on taxpayers and regional economies.
Best fishing practices for conserving and managing big ocean fish require transitioning fisheries away from the large-scale use of indiscriminate, ecologically-harmful fishing gears to more selective, sustainable fishing methods that provide an economically feasible, low-bycatch alternative. Fortunately, those alternative methods exist.
Identify and promote selective fishing practices that improve fisheries sustainability and support ecosystem structure and function, while minimizing bycatch and bycatch mortality.
Encourage the use of gear types or modifications that reduce catch of non-target species and mortality of released fish.
Foster the development and use of fishing practices that consider the ecosystem roles of target and non-target species.
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A RESPITE FOR MAKO
In November, after more than a decade of warning about the vulnerability and decline of North Atlantic shortfin mako shark, international managers banned the retention of all shortfin mako sharks for two years. International scientists have advised that a moratorium is the most immediate step we can take to reverse the decline and rebuild the population, but it will still take more than five decades to fully recover this deeply depleted population.
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