Swordfish Under Siege
Despite strong opposition by the recreational fishing community and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in August NOAA Fisheries issued an exempted fishing permit (EFP) that allows pelagic longlining for swordfish in Florida’s east coas
The EFP was granted to Dr. David Kerstetter of Nova Southeastern University to evaluate pelagic longline (PLL) catches and catch rates of target and nontarget species from two subareas in the northern portion of the closed area, compare them to those from an area open to fishing with longlining gear, and evaluate the effectiveness of existing closures.
The EFP allows Kerstetter to conduct the so-called research with a fleet of six longlining vessels active at one time.
The project would be authorized for 12 months and, pending annual review of environmental conditions or impacts, catches and catch rates of all species, and individual vessel performance, could be reauthorized for two additional 12-month periods. In response to public comment, NOAA Fisheries is limiting the research to 720 sets per year split between the six vessels, with each set consisting of a maximum of 600 circle hooks, size 16/0 or larger.
Through this EFP, NOAA Fisheries affords exemptions to the participating vessels from regulations regarding two subareas within in the EFC PLL closed area and associated prohibitions, but all other requirements — size limits, seasons, quotas, reporting requirements, vessel monitoring systems, gear restrictions, and individual bluefin tuna quota requirements — would continue to apply.
The longlines will kill billfish, swordfish, sharks and sea turtles, warns The Billfish Foundation, which also pointed out the hypocrisy of the situation. Both the scientist and the owner of the longline boats, in a 2012 CNN interview, stated that longlining is not a clean gear and should be replaced by buoy gear. Now that they can sell the conservation benefits, their story has changed.
“All anglers who fish off Florida’s east coast should be irate at the NMFS Office of Highly Migratory Species for not respecting recreational fishing,” said The Billfish Foundation President Ellen Peel. “Allowing longlines back into Florida’s east coast closed zone to land the conservation benefits accrued over 16 years of closure is illogical. The NMFS has accommodated the one scientist at Nova who filed for the permit, project after project, regardless of prior results or the inappropriateness of the project.”