Highly Migratory Species Report

by John Keogler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2007 Newsletter)


Roundscale Spearfish

The determination of white marlin’s status under the Endangered Species Act will become more interesting since scientists have recently identified a white marlin clone. To make an even bigger issue, they have called it a spearfish. Current HMS rules require you release all “longbill” spearfish alive and not bring them to the dock.

What surprised me the most about this issue is that big-time billfish fishermen and major billfish tournaments have known about this look-alike species for many years. It had been called a “Hatchet Marlin” by the tournaments and specified that it is a white marlin for tournament purposes. This species has also been identified in one saltwater fish identification book as a hatchet marlin.

Last year, in the November, 2006, issues of the “Bulletin of Marine Science,” Guy Harvey Research Institute, a part of Nova Southeastern University scientists working with NOAA fishery scientists, published their report about this new billfish. The Institute scientists found major genetic differences in this fish. As a result, they considered this billfish a new and different species.

A NMFS fishery scientist had first identified this species in 1974 from just 4 specimens. C.R. Robins first identified this species with a NMFS technical report SSRF-675. Within the last 10 years, George Hinteregger, a NMFS scientist, brought one of these species back to his NMFS lab. While researching this new species he uncovered the previous report.

Over the last 10 years NMFS scientists could only recover an additional 15 specimens from among the huge landings of commercial fishermen. Given that a few years back US longline fishermen had discards of over 40 MT of white marlin in a single year, how abundant can this species be?

Do the math: 40 MT of white marlin discards at an average weight of 40 pounds each equals 55 marlin per MT or a grand total of 2,200 white marlin discards per year. Multiply 2,200 per year times 10 years equals 22,000 white marlin that could have been discarded over that period. It took 10 years to find 15 additional roundscale spearfish. So how big a deal are only 15 specimens compared to 22,000 discards over the same 10 years?

But writers and scientific types must wax at great length about the implications of a new misidentified species swimming with the white marlin population, especially since white marlin are undergoing a current ESA review to determine if this species population has dropped so far that it should be considered threatened or endangered.

Are not the press and fishery scientists wonderful? You must know that in a 2006 population report, ICCAT scientists found a white marlin rebound since their previous study in 2002. Last year, the two biggest east coast white marlin tournaments had high numbers of white marlin releases, the best in many years. So something has happened.

The major population rebound of the swordfish population has been identified as due to the closure of the Straits of Florida to longline fishing. Vast numbers of white marlin and other billfish migrate north with the gulf stream every year. Previously, they had to avoid vast numbers of longline hooks. The elimination of Florida longline fishing must be identified as the major reason all these species have rebounded.

In the February issue of “The New Jersey Angler” magazine there was a great article about a winning crew who fished last year’s Mid-Atlantic $500,000 tournament. A sidebar at the end of the article makes identifying this new spearfish species easier.

Three identifying features were:

  1. Location of Anus: In a white marlin, the vent is about 2 inches forward of the anal fin. In a roundscale spearfish it is about 6 inches in front.
  2. Scales: The side of a white Marlin is fairly smooth in coloration while on a roundscale spearfish it appears almost polka-dotted. Similarly, if you run your hand forward on a white marlin you will get stuck by the scales. That does not happen on a roundscale spearfish, hence the name roundscale spearfish.
  3. Branchiostegals: These are the rays below the fill cavity on the ventral side of the fish’s head. In a white marlin these are relatively short, extending about two-thirds of the way out of the gill cover. In a roundscale spearfish these extend almost all the way to the end of the gill cover.

The best short article about this new species is available online from Science News online for the week of March 3, 2007, http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070303/food.asp, or you can use yahoo and request spearfish.

Important: Read this newest request for public comment from NMFS-HMS division.

Blue Water Fisherman’s Association has requested an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) from NMFS for 13 fishing vessels to collect important fisheries data in fFederal waters about the rebuilt status of swordfish and other species in federal waters. The rules require NMFS to issue a request for public comment so the public would have the opportunity to comment on their issuance of an exempted fishing permit. The NMFS release states: “At this time, given the nearly rebuilt status of North Atlantic swordfish, NMFS is considering issuing this proposed EFP.”

If you can not find time to write, you lose. Your comments must be received by April 17, 2007 and addressed to:

Michael Clark
HMS Division (F/SF1)
NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD. 20910
Fax 1-301-713-1917 
Identifier--- ID 030107C

Can you appreciate a tiny bit of good news? NMFS proposes to suspend existing regulations that require Atlantic billfish tournament participants to use non-offset circle hooks when fishing with any kind of natural or live bait in tournaments. This proposed rule would provide additional time for recreational tournament anglers to become more familiar and proficient with circle hooks and increase awareness among tournament anglers of circle hook conservation benefits. Under this proposed rule the circle hook requirement would be reinstated unchanged on January 1, 2008. If you have a few minutes do an internet search and read NMFS HMS final consolidated FMP.

The New Magnuson Act of 2006

Many changes are contained in the New Magnuson Act of 2006. This act which governs all US fishermen changes how fishery management councils will operate in the future especially in how they will set quotas. The act is highly focused on ending all species overfishing in the shortest possible time. There are many good items, such as new Marine Protected Area limits. The MSA now requires that the councils are to consider the economic impact of harvest restrictions or recovery benefits on the fishery participants in each sector, an increased emphasis on reducing bycatch. There are new buyout provisions for overcapitalized commercial fleets. The money for these buyouts comes from imposing new fees, not the government.

NMFS is currently writing new management guidelines for this new MSA. They should release them shortly. They must be commented on before April 17, 2007. How NMFS writes these new guidelines is a big issue since the new MSA has made so many major changes. Someone must be appointed by each club to make sure your club sends written comments on these guidelines in a timely manner. NMFS plans to have their new guidelines in force by December 2007.

This new act contains a requirement for the establishment of a national regionally based registry program for individual recreational fishermen. This is a saltwater fishing license mandate since it covers all federal waters. The act encourages states to impose their own license which they will approve, then accept in place of a federal registry. A federal registry fee cannot be imposed before Jan 1, 2011. It also requires: “If appropriate the registration of vessels used in such fishing, including the ownership, operator, and identification of the vessels.” How would a good bureaucrat interpret that sentence?

Rejoice and remember how much your government has given you to be happy about.


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