Chapter 14 preface: Pew urges fishery closure


Pew Urges National Marine Fisheries Service to Protect Bluefin Tuna, Ban Long-line Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

Washington, DC - 09/01/2009 - The Pew Environment Group today joined 14 fishing and conservation organizations and more than 55,000 members of the general public in urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reject its current proposal to allow commercial long-line fishermen to catch and sell more Atlantic bluefin tuna, an iconic species nearing collapse.

Approximately 55,000 citizens filed comments urging NMFS to protect western Atlantic bluefin tuna by implementing an area closure on long-line gear in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning area for the species.  Scientists estimate that the number of mature western Atlantic bluefin tuna has dropped more than 80% since 1970 and fewer than 20,000 adults may remain.  Much of this decline comes from the intense commercial fishing and incidental killing (bycatch) by vessels targeting yellowfin tuna and swordfish. 

“Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the largest and most valuable fish in the oceans, is in dire straits,” said Lee Crockett, director of Federal Fisheries Policy, Pew Environment Group.  “We now have the opportunity to restore this fish to healthy levels.  The question is whether or not the National Marine Fisheries Service will finally take the necessary and bold steps to protect bluefin in U.S. waters.” 

Directed commercial fishing for bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico has been banned since 1982, but long-line fishermen targeting swordfish and yellowfin tuna are allowed to keep up to three incidentally-caught bluefin tuna per trip.  Despite critically low population levels and the current ban, NMFS has proposed allowing commercial long-line fishermen to catch and sell more fish than currently allowed by law.

Bluefin tuna command a large price in the marketplace – up to thousands of dollars per fish.  Allowing fishermen just two more of these fish per trip creates a strong economic incentive to set long-line gear in the only known spawning areas.  Given the small population size of mature fish, any increase in mortality decreases the chance of rebuilding the stock. 

“Anything we can do to protect these fragile species in their spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico would benefit all user groups,” said Ray Rosher, renowned Miami-based charter captain.  “And the conservation of these species is crucial to all user groups.” 

In addition to protecting bluefin tuna, the ban would help conserve populations of white and blue marlin – both are categorized as subject to overfishing and are severely depleted.  Endangered leatherback and threatened loggerhead sea turtles, which are caught and killed unintentionally by long-lines, would also benefit from the closure.

The Pew Environment Group is working to secure a closure of sea surface long-line fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish in the Gulf of Mexico to protect bluefin tuna and other ocean wildlife.
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Source: Pew Charitable Trust news release