ED­I­TOR’S LET­TER

Marlin - - CONTENTS DEPARTMENTS - Sam White Ed­i­tor

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.

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