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.
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.
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.
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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!