Is the U.S. Moving to All-Release in Billfish Tournaments?

Four pros sound off

four images of boat captains
Four tournament directors discuss the position of moving toward all-release in U.S.-based billfish tournaments.Courtesy Rick Alvarez, Rick Weber, Jasen Gast, Capt. Jody Bright
Rick Alvarez
rick alvarez of the international billfish tournaments
Rick Alvarez, International Billfish TournamentsCourtesy Rick Alvarez

Based on the current rules and structure of a number of major billfish tournaments set up in such a way where anglers can win very large purses, it is highly unlikely that they would transition to an all-release format any time soon. The incentives to kill are just too high for organizers and their participants. Tournament success is based on huge participation, not only by large numbers of competing boats but also by attracting the general public to the weigh-ins. Making a show out of the events translates into some very nice sponsorships as well as revenue for the local area and more exposure to the fishery.

Rick Weber
rick weber of midatlantic tournament gear
Rick Weber, MidAtlantic TournamentCourtesy Rick Weber

It is unlikely the U.S. will see every one of its billfish tournaments switch to an all-release format. Personally, I see neither a market for it, nor a compelling conservation argument. The U.S. is limited to a total of 250 Atlantic marlin, blue and white. In 20 years, we have never hit this number, and those few that have been harvested have provided valuable scientific data. There is an important place for recreational anglers in the rebuilding of marlin stocks, but it is not in further unilateral action. We have led the way, now is the time for the world to follow.

Jasen Gast
Jasen Gast with texas billfish classic
Jasen Gast, Texas Billfish ClassicCourtesy Jasen Gast

I think most folks support — and maybe prefer — a billfish-release tournament, but there are still participants and spectators who enjoy seeing a large blue marlin weighed. Many organizers have been slow to support billfish-release categories and raising the minimum lengths for harvesting a blue marlin, fearing that teams would not fish the event. However, this has proved not to be the case. Many tournaments are now going to a 110-inch minimum length with a seven-figure optional jackpot purse. It’s only a matter of time until the transition is made to all-release formats to ensure our billfish stocks remain strong for future generations.

Capt. Jody Bright
captain jody bright and kona tournaments
Capt. Jody Bright, Kona TournamentsCourtesy Capt. Jody Bright

If sailfish were the only billfish, then yes, but it’s not that simple. How do you equitably score the release of a 75-pound blue marlin against the release of a 1,200-pound blue marlin? If your location produces only fish between, say 300 and 600 pounds, then an all-release format could work. In Kona, our blues range from 75 pounds to 1,800 pounds. I’ve tried for years to figure out an all-release format for Kona, but have been unable to solve this fundamental problem. I have a standing offer: a free entry fee to the person who can!