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March 15, 2013

Amendment 8 Hopes to Increase Swordfish Catches

Other ICCAT countries could take U.S. swordfish if Atlantic commercial fishers don't fill quotas.

The U.S. is in danger of losing a share of its swordfishery after failing to reach quotas in recent years. That's according to catch recommendations by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). 

At the start of this decade swordfish were in bad shape, undergoing a 10-year swordfish rebuilding program adopted by ICCAT. By 2009, stocks were deemed fully recovered and soon the U.S. was in danger of losing its uncaught swordfish numbers to other countries. From 2007 to 2011, ICCAT numbers found that the U.S. caught roughly 70 percent under its quota of swordfish. 

The U.S. is now in jeopardy of losing its unharvested quota to countries such as Japan. That's right, the U.S is being punished for not taking every fish it could have. A number of factors contributed to this issue including failure by many anglers to report swordfish landings; availability of commercial permits; restrictions on authorizing an increase in the size of permitted vessels; little available financing for distant water vessels; and restriction of fishing in established closed zones to protect juvenile swordfish, marlin, and sea turtle bycatch.

The ICCAT could lower the quota and countries like the U.S. could reap the resulting conservation benefit, but that's not likely to happen. There doesn't seem to be a way for the US not to catch its allotment, but still prevent other countries from taking U.S. fish. 

One solution could be Amendment 8 to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plan.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is currently evaluating Draft Amendment 8 which focuses on pumping up the U.S. swordfish fishery.

The authorization of new gear types into the commercial swordfish fishery, as proposed in Draft Amendment 8, may increase landings and the likelihood of the U.S. retaining its quota. A large emphasis is being placed on the use of hand gear because of its highy selective nature with regard to target species, and may have a lower post-release mortality of undersized fish and protected resources compared to longlines. Hand gear types include rod and reel (like the Bluefin General Category permit, not a recreational rod and reel permit), handline, harpoon, and bandit gear. While hand gears only accounted for 5 percent of the commercial swordfish landings, they may provide an increased opportunity to fully harvest quota. 

To increase access to the commercial swordfish fishery, NMFS is currently considering expanding the number of Limited Access Permits (LAP) via:

  • A new Limited Access Commercial Swordfish Permit
  • The addition of swordfish to the Atlantic Tuna Harpoon Permit and/or General Tuna Permit holders
  • Create a new Limited Access Commercial Swordfish Permit
  • Allow charter/headboats to fish and harvest swordfish under a General Category permit when not on a for-hire trip

NMFS is also considering the following alternatives to provide additional opportunities to harvest swordfish and increase landings:

  • Utilizing a combination of modifications to retention limits and closures based on regional fishing zones
  • The creation of a harvest tag program to better track commercial swordfish sold to permitted swordfish dealers
  • One alternative proposed in Draft Amendemnt 8 would allow a current HMS Angling vessel elected to fish under a new commercial Rod and Reel permit, but may not be during a for-hire and must fish according to commercial regulations.

It is extremely important for the U.S. to land its full quota allocation to not only remain a dominant force during international negotiations, but a failure to do so increases the likelihood that uncaught tonnage will go to other nations, says The Billfish Foundation. Nations currently clamoring for a portion of the unharvested quota fish with little regard for conservation and dump swordfish back into the U.S. market. Economically, this drives down prices and causes negative economic impacts on U.S. fisheries and related businesses. The Billfish Foundation has particular interest in the swordfish fishery and the development of Amendment 8 because of the importance of the fishery to both the recreational and commercial fishing industries.