Fisheries experts oppose longline swordfish permits

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A fishery management official is speaking out against an exempted fishing permit allowing longline fishing in an area off Florida’s west coast that has been closed to that activity since 2001.

Chester Brewer, who served 10 years on The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas advisory panel helping manage swordfish, tuna and billfish and is a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, says opening the area up to longline fishing would devastate the swordfish population.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, swordfish were in trouble in the U.S. The number of fish and the average landed weight for these fish had gone down,” Brewer wrote in an editorial in Sport Fishing magazine. “It was determined that a major cause of the problem was that too many juvenile swordfish were being killed by longlining activities.”

In 2001, the federal government shut down two areas to longline fishing to avoid listing swordfish as an endangered species — one in South Carolina and one off the Florida coast.

“The effort was almost immediately effective and by 2007, swordfish were declared recovered,” Brewer wrote. “Ever since that time, there have been efforts to reintroduce longlining in these proven nursery grounds and designated conservation areas.”

The Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fishery Service recently approved a permit request by Day Boat Seafood LLC without holding a public comment period — allowing one company “to rape and pillage in protected areas and keep and sell anything it legally catches,” Brewer wrote.

“Day Boat would be the only entity with the right to longline in this conservation area,” he wrote. “They alone would be given the right to make 3,240 longline sets in a protected area, with 2,160 of these sets in the nursery area.”

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the international body that regulates swordfish quota among the different nations, considers the recovery of western swordfish to be its greatest victory for conservation, Brewer said.

“It is beyond comprehension that NMFS would put at risk one of the greatest conservation victories of all time,” he said. “It should be remembered it is not just the juvenile swordfish that are being placed at risk with this EFP but also the nation's best sailfish fishery due to the by-catch mortality of sailfish.”

The Center for Sportfishing Policy and other boating and recreational fishing groups oppose reopening the area to longline fishing, saying: “Ever since the fishery was deemed recovered, there have been ill-conceived attempts to reopen the closed areas to commercial harvest and expose it to the types of intense commercial fishing pressure that drove it into an overfished condition in the first place.”

Brewer concluded by asking opponents to contact acting HMS director Randy Blankinship at randy.blankinship@noaa.gov

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