ICCAT held its 24th annual meeting November 10-17, 2015 in Malta and adopted 13 recommendations. Of the 13 recommendations, only a few have direct impact species targeted by US fishermen. Recommendation 15-05 calls for the strengthening of the plan to rebuilding blue and white marlin stocks. The most recent stock assessment for blue marlin finds the stock overfished and experiencing overfishing while the white marlin stock is overfished but likely not experiencing overfishing. ICCAT set forward a recommendation to hold blue and white marlin landings at 2,000 tons and 400 tons respectively through 2018.
While the US does not have any commercial markets for Atlantic billfish, markets for blue and white marlin exist in 13 other ICCAT countries with the largest being the European Union, Japan, Brazil and Ghana. The US is limited to 250 recreationally catch blue and white marlin/spearfish per year. Outside of the US, enforcement and reporting have long been considered lacks in the ICCAT system. Previous reports have found that foreign marlin harvest can easily be double of the harvest quota which not only slows the stock’s rebuilding but can also impact recreational opportunities in the US.
Atlantic bluefin tuna, both the western and eastern Atlantic stocks, continues to rebuild after years under a rebuilding plan. Issues still persist in the eastern Atlantic primarily with lacks reporting and noncompliance with country specific quotas. ICCAT approved Recommendation 15-10 to continue moving forward with electronic reporting and monitoring of bluefin tuna harvest. Electronic reporting is expected to improve not only the enforcement of ICCAT managed species but also their assessment.
Concern continues in regards to bigeye tuna. Going into the meeting there was a generally accepted need to reduce harvest on mature bigeye in the Central Atlantic as well as reduce bycatch of juvenile bigeye tuna in the Gulf of Guinea off of west, central Africa. Unfortunately, neither one of these issues was addressed at the meeting with the European Union and Japan advocating strongly for status quote. Again, ICCAT is all about trade and between just the EU and Japan, there are roughly 550 longline and purse seine vessels which account for roughly 56,000 metric tons of bigeye. Bigeye is a big industry for the EU and Japan and they are negotiating hard to protect the interests of that industry over the long-term conservation of bigeye tuna.
With yellowfin tuna not showing up in the huge numbers off of the mid-Atlantic in recent years, bigeye has become a go-to species for many offshore anglers and charter captains and people are following bigeye on the leader board. Action in the central and eastern Atlantic is needed to ensure the strong bigeye fishing we have seen in the US recently continues.
The White Marlin Open urges you to support the RFA. The have been at the front of the battle for recreational fishermen from the start and their testimonies before Congress have been instrumental in preserving our rights to continue to fish for all Atlantic billfish. The RFA is your political voice in Washington but needs your support to carry on the good fight.