In my first week as editor of Marlin, the fishing community took a big hit with some bad news from the government. With a historically dismal record of fisheries management, the National Marine Fisheries Service did have one bright spot: the rebuilding of swordfish stocks off the East Coast, and specifically off Florida. Two decades ago, swordfish had been decimated to the point that recreational anglers quit fishing for them. With the population teetering on the very brink, a critical portion of the Florida Straits was closed to pelagic longlining. This area closure, among other measures, led to an incredible recovery for the species over the past 16 years, to the point where recreational anglers could once again catch swords on a regular basis. It was proof that sound conservation measures actually worked, and that commercially overfished stocks could be rebuilt.
That progress took a serious U-turn in August, when NMFS announced that it had approved an Exempted Fishing Permit to allow pelagic longline boats to fish the closed zone off Florida. Swordfish are now once again under attack.
The decision to reopen these areas to longlining was made in spite of overwhelming opposition from the recreational-fishing community, as well as conservation organizations such as The Billfish Foundation. Even Florida’s own Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission opposed the issuing of this permit, and yet NMFS did it anyway.
In Florida alone, some 2.4 million anglers generate $7.6 billion in economic impact and support over 100,000 jobs. A handful of commercial boats can put a substantial chunk of that at risk, fishing in the name of research. At Marlin, we advocate for sustainable fishing for all species — including swordfish — and this new exemption is quite honestly a slap in the face for all recreational anglers. This battle is just getting started.
While many of the world’s fisheries are having a down year in 2017, there are a few that are booming. The blue marlin bite in Madeira was very good earlier this season, with a number of record-setting big fish showing up there. Big swordfish continue to be landed off New Zealand, and some beauties are also coming out of southern Australia; Al McGlashan covers that emerging fishery on page 50. The white marlin bite off the East Coast is a little late this year, but many boats are reporting good fishing off North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The real news is centered on the blue marlin numbers coming out of Costa Rica. The Pacific seamounts from 70 to 150 miles offshore have the hottest fishing for blues on the planet right now. The action is consistent, and consistently good. It is entirely possible to release more blue marlin on a single overnight trip than you can see over the course of a full season in most other hot spots in the world. The downside: Increasing pressure from recreational and commercial fishing, combined with commercial overfishing of forage species, could have serious adverse effects on this fishery.
Many of the private and charter boats fishing out of Los Sueños, Quepos and Golfito have switched from live-baiting to trolling dead baits, or even just teaser fishing without a hook in the water. It’s a whole lot more fun to test your ability as an angler by dropping back a dead bait to a lit-up blue on a teaser, rather than just waiting for one to wolf down a live tuna as you circle endlessly over the top of an underwater mountain. And despite using circle hooks, a fair number of those live-bait fish are hooked in the gills. So ask yourself: Do you really need to catch 15 or 20 marlin to impress your buddies on Facebook, or would you rather have a blast catching half that many by pitching baits on 20- or 30-pound tackle and knowing that nearly all of them will be hooked right in the corner of the mouth?
Let’s get away from the numbers game and back to what marlin fishing is all about: the bite, and the fight.