Anglers and conservationists scored a big victory in Congress on August 1st as the Billfish Conservation Act was unanimously approved by the House Natural Resources Committee for future floor consideration. With only minor modifications, H.R. 2706, which would prohibit the sale of foreign-caught billfish in the United States, received overwhelming bi-partisan support in the Committee.

"It is great to see Congress giving momentum to the Billfish Conservation Act, sending the message that the future of billfish is not for sale," said Ken Hinman, President of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC).

By eliminating a sizeable component of the international billfish market, the Billfish Conservation Act will boost the billfish recovery efforts underway in the U.S. and abroad. "Billfish are harvested by other nations and sold to the U.S. even though the U.S. has strong conservation measures in place for its waters; this has caused a serious decline in populations," said Rob Kramer, President of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). IGFA and NCMC are partners in a national campaign to Take Marlin Off the Menu.

Marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively called billfish, are some of the world's most majestic marine fish. They are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. Billfish are also highly esteemed by recreational anglers the world over, and catch-and-release fisheries for these species support many marine jobs and generate billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

Unfortunately, the world's billfish stocks are seriously imperiled from non-U.S. commercial fishing. Recently, as a result of these population declines, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed blue and white marlin as threatened species and striped marlin as nearly threatened. Billfish are primarily caught as by-catch in non-U.S. commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries, but the by-catch is harvested and sold internationally, with the United States serving as the world's largest importer of billfish.

For nearly two decades, the U.S. has had a ban on the sale of Atlantic-caught billfish, yet no such ban exists for Pacific-caught billfish. This Pacific Ocean loophole also creates a black market for Atlantic-caught billfish because there is no way to effectively enforce the distinction. Other countries continue to sell billfish in the U.S. through this loophole. The Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 would prohibit the sale of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the U.S., while still allowing for traditional fisheries within the State of Hawaii and Pacific Island Territories. Swordfish are not included in the prohibition.

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This information is provided by the National Coalition for Marine Conservation.