PARIS, France - A negotiating team from the United States, which included The Billfish Foundation (TBF), successfully defended existing conservation measures for white and blue marlin and swordfish during 12 days of annual negotiations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which concluded in Paris, November 27.
ICCAT is an inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and migratory species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea. The 40-year old commission includes nearly 50 member nations.
As the negotiations opened, intense media attention was directed at the U.S. and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lubchenco's presence was a clear indication that the U.S. was increasing its visibility at ICCAT. She delivered the U.S. conservation message as one, supporting science-based management for sustainable stocks and long term fishing opportunities and jobs for both the recreational and commercial fisheries.
"This was the first time we have heard a clear statement emphasizing the economic and cultural value of recreational fishing being delivered by the U.S. at ICCAT," said Ellen Peel, TBF President, who served as the U.S. Recreational Fishing Commissioner.
Randi Parks Thomas served as the U.S. Commercial Fishing Commissioner and Russell Smith, NOAA's Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries, was the lead U.S. Commissioner and negotiator. Dr. Russell Nelson, TBF's Chief Scientist, represented the organization as an official observer lobbying for conservation and keeping anglers globally informed via TBF's blog site thebillfishfoundation.blogspot.com .
Some positive results included a continuing of Atlantic marlin conservation measures requiring release of live marlin from longline vessels and quotas on commercial landings.
"These conservation measures have resulted in the first positive increase in white marlin stocks in over three decades," noted Peel. "Negotiating before ICCAT for the conservation of species important for U.S. recreational fisheries is extremely challenging," she said "but in recent years Brazil has arisen as a very important partner in billfish conservation."
"The U.S. successfully managed to extend the North Atlantic swordfish measures for one year, which will likely create more pressure next year to retain quota share," observed Nelson, "and any reduction in U.S. quota share would trickle down to re-distribution of catch allocations through all user groups in the U.S."
In other major news ICCAT, which recently began addressing shark conservation, removed oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks from the international market and any take, possession or sale will be prohibited (with some exceptions for small scale artisanal coastal fisheries). On the down side for sharks measures to protect thresher and porbeagle sharks and to require that all sharks be landed with fins intact (to make it harder to fin sharks and discard their bodies) were defeated. Like marlin, sharks are killed as bycatch in pelagic longline gear.
"A significant step was achieved with the adoption of the agreement to prohibit retention of oceanic whitetip sharks," said Sonja Fordham, a veteran international shark expert, U.S. delegation member and President of the non-profit organization Shark Advocates International.
Much needed conservation measures for bigeye tuna and Mediterranean swordfish did not move forward.