Conservationists Encouraged by
Government Proposal to Protect Baby
Swordfish -- Strong Public Support Key to Success
The Give Swordfish a Break Campaign is pleased that the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) finally has issued a proposed rule that seeks to
protect baby swordfish and other species caught as bycatch by longline
Baby swordfish are caught and killed in huge numbers by fishing vessels
using "longlines," which are fishing lines stretching dozens of miles
long and baited with hundreds of hooks. Longline vessels catch, kill and
discard tens of thousands of baby swordfish every year in the U.S.
Reducing the catch of young swordfish is essential to the recovery of
North Atlantic swordfish, which have been severely depleted by more than
a decade of overfishing.
The proposed rule, which appeared in the December 15 Federal Register,
would prohibit pelagic longline fishing at certain times and in certain
areas, totaling over 196,000 square miles, in the South Atlantic and Gulf
The government will consider public comment until February 11, 2000.
NRDC and SeaWeb, as well as the Ocean Wildlife Campaign (which includes
the Center for Marine Conservation, the National Audubon Society,
National Coalition for Marine Conservation, NRDC, the World Wildlife Fund
and the Wildlife Conservation Society), will closely review the proposed
rule, and the supporting technical documents (such as the Environmental
Impact Statement) when they are publicly available. They will assess the
rule's efficacy in reducing bycatch mortality of baby swordfish and other
valuable species and will submit detailed comments before the public
comment period concludes.
Without commenting on the specifics of the rule, Vikki Spruill of SeaWeb
noted: "It is crucial for the public to express strong support for
protections for baby swordfish. There is likely to be strong opposition
from commercial fishermen."
"Almost 2/3rds of the US catch of north Atlantic swordfish consists of
juveniles, and the killing of so many young fish before they have the
chance to reproduce has been a major factor in the decline of the North
Atlantic population," said Lisa Speer, of NRDC, co-founders of GSAB.
The two goals of GSAB have been to secure an international recovery plan
and protection for young swordfish. Last month a major new international
agreement to reduce the catch of swordfish was reached at a meeting of
the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
(ICCAT) in Rio. Now attention is turning to domestic action to protect
baby swordfish. With the current proposed rule, NMFS sets the stage for
accomplishing the other key element of swordfish recovery -- protection
of swordfish nursery areas.
GSAB is continuing to call on consumers not to eat swordfish from the
North Atlantic until adequate protections for young swordfish are adopted
by the government.
"Longline fishing results in the incidental catch of juvenile north
Atlantic swordfish, blue and white marlin, sailfish, bluefin tuna and
other valuable migratory fish, all of which are already depleted by
overfishing, said David Wilmot, director of the Ocean Wildlife Campaign.
"The bycatch mortality of these species significantly impairs their
ability to rebuild to healthy levels."
Three conservation groups, National Coalition for Marine Conservation,
National Audubon Society, and Natural Resources Defense Council,
represented by the Ocean Law Project, a Project of The Pew Charitable
Trusts, sued NMFS earlier this year for its failure to take action to
reduce bycatch and prevent overfishing of highly migratory species,
including north Atlantic swordfish. The conservation groups agreed to a
stay of the litigation so long as the government issued a proposed rule
addressing these issues by December 15 and a final rule by May 1, 2000.
Contact: Charles Longer, 202-822-5200