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Senators introduce bill to protect billfish

By Staff | Feb 23, 2017

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week Thursday to amend the Billfish Conservation Act of 2012, making it clear that the original intent of the BCA was to prohibit sales of any marlin, spearfish or sailfish in the mainland United States, regardless of who catches them or where. The bill was filed by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

“On behalf of anglers and conservationists around the country, we are grateful to these four senators for stepping up and taking this action,” said International Game Fish Association (IGFA) President Rob Kramer and Wild Oceans President Ken Hinman in a joint statement. “This simple bill, although called a ‘technical amendment,’ will ensure that billfish receive the full protections from commercial exploitation that the Billfish Conservation Act intended.”

The landmark law has been in force since 2013, preventing an estimated 30,000 foreign-caught billfish a year from being sold in U.S. markets on the Mainland, where U.S. commercial fishermen have been prohibited from selling blue, white and striped marlin, spearfish and sailfish for decades.

The act, however, provides an exemption for the “traditional fisheries and markets” of Hawaii and Pacific island territories. The authors of the BCA said at the time that the exemption was meant for local sales and consumption only, but the law itself was silent on whether or not fish could be sold outside Hawaii, creating a loophole that needed to be closed.

The Senate bill would not only close Mainland markets to all Pacific billfish – including those caught under the Hawaii exemption – it would strengthen enforcement of the billfish prohibition nationwide while minimizing regulatory costs.

IGFA (www.igfa.org) and Wild Oceans (wildoceans.org) partnered to form the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign in 2009, working together to pass the BCA and ever since to make sure it is implemented as intended.

In other news, the International Game Fish Association’s Board of Trustees recently met for their annual meeting, where they ratified several significant changes to the IGFA’s International Angling Rules and World Record Requirements.

Detailed information regarding these changes is listed below.

Assisting the Angler – Current IGFA International Angling Rules state that “the act of a person other than the angler touching the rod, reel, or line either bodily or with a device once the fish strikes or takes the bait” constitutes a disqualification.

However, nowhere in the IGFA’s rules do we discuss the legality of another person touching or making contact with the angler. The IGFA is frequently questioned on the legality of touching the angler while they are fighting a fish.

In order to clarify this important subject, the IGFA will be adding the following language to Section 3 of Disqualifying Acts: “Holding or touching an angler in a manner that assists them in fighting the fish or takes pressure off the angler. Touching or briefly holding the angler to prevent them from falling does not constitute a disqualification.”

Backing & Top-Shot – Current IGFA International Angling Rules state: “If the fishing line is attached to backing, the catch shall be classified under the heavier of the lines.”

This rule has long been contested in cases where the main line or top shot is lighter than the underlying backing, as logic dictates that the lighter line will break before the heavier backing. This is also contrary to IGFA angling rules for fly-fishing, where the catch is categorized based on the breaking strength of the class tippet, which must be a minimum of 15 inches.

To address this issue, IGFA will be making the following alterations to Equipment Regulation A:

Title change from “LINE” to “LINE & BACKING.”

Adding a new subsection that reads: “3. The use of backing is permissible.”

Adding a new subsection that reads: “4. The catch shall be classified under the breaking strength of the first 16.5 feet (5 meters) of line directly preceding the double line, leader or hook. This section must be comprised of a single, homogenous piece of line.”

All changes are effective April 1, 2017.

(Donnell A. Tate is the IGFA Representative for Maui County.)