Groups support update to Billfish Conservation Act

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Conservationists and anglers are praising a bill filed last week that seeks to clear the way for full implementation of a landmark law to raise protections for billfish.

The Billfish Conservation Act was lauded when it was signed into law in 2012, but a slight ambiguity in the wording of the original legislation prevented it from being implemented as the federal government intended, the National Marine Manufacturers Association said.

The coalition of sportfishing groups that support the bill filed by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., includes the NMMA, the American Sportfishing Association, the Center for Sportfishing Policy, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Ocearch and Wild Oceans.

The NMMA said the Billfish Conservation Act banned the importation of all billfish caught by foreign fleets into the continental United States and, perhaps most important, set an example for other countries to pursue similar conservation efforts once thought impossible.

However, questions arose about whether the prohibitions on foreign-caught billfish that the law imposed also applied to billfish caught commercially in Hawaii.

If commercially caught billfish could be transported from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, it would circumvent the intent of the conservation measure. The legislation introduced last week clarifies that billfish landed in Hawaii must be retained there, the NMMA said.

Before the Billfish Conservation Act was passed, the United States was the No. 1 importer of billfish in the world.

The NMMA said U.S. calls for greater billfish conservation in international fishery management circles in the past were often met with skepticism and disregarded.

Implemented as originally intended, the law should make it easier for the United States to establish a greater leadership role for the international protection of billfish, the NMMA said.

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