Prominent Members Weigh In on Billfish Management

Offshore-fishing enthusiasts speaks to what changes could be made in management policy

big-game management
Top Left: Capt. Skeet Warren, Joan Vernon / Bottom: Capt. Ray Rosher, Bill SheddFile Photo

Q: What would be the single most important change we could make to current management policy in the coming year to benefit billfish stocks?

Joan Vernon

Conservationist/Tournament Organizer
Key Biscayne, Florida

Joan Vernon
Joan Vernon, Conservationist/Tournament Organizer — Key Biscayne, FloridaScott Kerrigan / http://www.aquapaparazzi.com/

In the Atlantic, managers should make better use of scientific-research results on migratory billfish patterns. Data from tagging programs such as The Billfish Foundation’s and the Adopt-A-Billfish ­program, have established billfish ­spawning regions. We need longline closures in known spawning areas. In the Pacific, I would like to see an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles throughout the region, with commercial fishing highly regulated within that zone. Research has proved that the vertical habitat of billfish in the eastern Pacific is limited due to the dissolved oxygen level. Because of this, longlines and purse seines need to be seriously managed.

Capt. Skeet Warren

Charter Captain
Flamingo, Costa Rica

Capt. Skeet Warren
Capt. Skeet Warren, Charter Captain — Flamingo, Costa RicaCourtesy of Capt. Skeeter Warren

The single biggest issue is the continued limitation of commercial ­fishing fleets worldwide, in foreign as well as U.S. waters. Because of advanced technology, the stocks of pelagic fish have been severely depleted. In the 35 years that I have been fishing professionally, I have seen a big decrease in fish populations. Because of organizations like The Billfish Foundation educating foreign governments on the economic value of a live billfish, I have seen the billfish stocks, as well as tuna, start to come back recently. In Costa Rica, we have suffered a serious decline in the yellowfin tuna population because of overfishing, but because of new regulations, our charter clients are slowly beginning to experience the thrill of catching them again.

Bill Shedd

President, AFTCO Manufacturing Co.
Santa Ana, California

Bill Shedd
Bill Shedd, President, AFTCO Manufacturing Co. — Santa Ana, CaliforniaDoug Olander

NOAA Fisheries needs to finalize its promised rule-making ­decision on the Billfish Conservation Act, which passed in 2012. The law intended that the Hawaii exemption allow only for traditional harvest and consumption within the islands and that billfish should not be allowed to be shipped from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. A ruling from NOAA Fisheries is needed to close a possible loophole and ­prevent possible cheating with billfish caught in other parts of the world being shipped through Hawaii. The Billfish Conservation Act was passed to prevent billfish ­importation into the United States by removing economic incentives in other countries. Allowing the Billfish Conservation Act to proceed as intended will have a huge positive impact on billfish stocks.

Capt. Ray Rosher

Charter Captain
Miami, Florida

Capt. Ray Rosher
Capt. Ray Rosher, Charter Captain — Miami, FloridaCourtesy of Capt. Ray Rosher

We should be focused on the creation of habitats intended to increase baitfish stocks in both inshore and offshore waters. I believe healthy baitfish stocks are one of the most important elements impacting the health of an area’s predator-fish population. These new habitats could be in the form of concrete or steel structures, or fish aggregating devices in our bays and coastal shallows. FADs could also possibly be attached to shipwrecks or concrete structures both in deep and shallow water. I have personally seen a huge difference in billfish numbers — mainly sailfish and blue marlin — around FADs or wrecks. I believe this is related to the abundance of baitfish around these types of artificial reefs. Oil rigs in the Gulf have proven to be blue marlin havens over the years, but it’s not that easy to get one of those erected on the East Coast.