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Longline Fishing Banned Off Pacific Coast

By Cat Lazaroff

FOSTER CITY, California, October 31, 2002 (ENS)

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) has
adopted an unprecedented fishery management plan
that prohibits the use of pelagic longline gear in the
waters off California, Oregon and Washington.
Conservation and fishing groups say the move will help
protect the health of tunas, swordfish, marlin and oceanic
sharks, known as highly migratory species.
The PFMC decision will ban pelagic longline fishing
within the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which
extends 200 nautical miles offshore. As California and
Washington had already banned this fishing method off
their coasts, the primary effect of the council's decision
is to bar longlining off the Oregon coast.

Many sea birds fall victim to longline fishing methods
(Photo courtesy American Bird Conservancy)

"We applaud the Council for taking the historic step of prohibiting the use of pelagic longlines in U.S. West Coast waters," said Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. "Too often our fishery managers wait until a crisis develops before acting. It is encouraging to see managers take precautionary action to safeguard ocean health as well as the future health of our fishing industries."
The Council made its final decision Wednesday after a more than two year process, hearing arguments from conservationists, recreational fishermen and commercial fishers. The decision came despite a strong push by a segment of the commercial fishing industry to allow longlining.
Under the final decision, fishers will still be able to apply for an exempted fishing permit to test new longline gear. The PMFC will create strict guidelines limiting the use of such permits, however, to ensure that they are issued only for genuine
research, and not for covert commercial fishing, noted
Shana Beemer, fisheries policy analyst at the National
Audubon Society.
"By doing the right thing upfront, the Pacific Council will
prevent the crisis we're seeing in the groundfish fishery,"
Beemer said. "These modest regulations come at an
important time as displaced groundfish fishermen may
begin targeting highly migratory species."

A school of yellowfin tuna, one of the species sought by
Pacific longliners.
(Photo courtesy National Undersea Research Program)

The PMFC decision affects only pelagic longline fishing, which targets species that swim freely in ocean waters, rather than living at the sea bottom. Bottom longline fishing will still be legal along the Pacific coast.
Pacific pelagic longliners specifically target highly migratoryfish species, including five species of tuna, five shark species, the striped marlin, Pacific swordfish and dorado.
"If the commercial fishing industry were allowed to expand
the use of longlines in the waters off the West Coast, the
populations of striped marlin, swordfish and other marine
species would be jeopardized," said Dr. Russ Nelson of
The Billfish Foundation.

Pelagic longlines are single stranded fishing lines many
miles long with hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of
baited hooks attached. This open water gear is used in
many parts of the world to catch tunas and swordfish, and
generates high levels of bycatch: the unplanned capture
and discarding of fish and other marine wildlife, which
often results in their death and waste.

Baited hooks on an experimental longline in
the Atlantic Ocean.
(Photo by Bernard Frink, courtesy NOAA)

Longlining in the Atlantic Ocean has contributed to the devastation of almost every species of highly migratory fish, conservation groups charge. For example, U.S. longliners killed and discarded thousands of undersized juvenile swordfish throughout the 1990s, slowing that fish's recovery. As many as nine out of ten sharks that perished on longline gear were unwanted and discarded. Overfished blue and white marlin are caught primarily in the swordfish and tuna longline fisheries.
In addition, NMFS found that longline fisheries jeopardize
the continued existence of loggerhead and leatherback sea
turtles in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
While longlining remains legal in the Atlantic, Central Pacific
and Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government has had to
establish large scale area closures, covering millions of square
miles, where longlining is prohibited, in order to protect
sea turtles, juvenile fish and other marine wildlife.
"We have an opportunity to act before the tunas and sharks
of the Pacific suffer declines like those seen in other parts
of the world," said Kate Wing, policy analyst with the Natural
Resources Defense Council. "We applaud the Council for
taking action to ensure we have fish and fisheries now and
in the future."

Reducing longline fishing could leave more
fish for people like this happy angler,
displaying two albacore tuna caught
from a charter boat off southern
California. (Photo courtesy NMFS)

Under U.S. law, fishery management plans are developed by regional councils and administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This is the first comprehensive federal plan for Pacific HMS caught off the U.S. West Coast.
Fishery management plans for Atlantic swordfish, sharks, tunas and marlin were enacted in the 1990s, but only after overfishing had already depleted their numbers.
"We are encouraged at the Councils proactive approach to managing our offshore fishery, putting fish before short term profits," said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California. "Healthy fish populations are essential to ensure the continuation of a thriving recreational fishery for highly migratory species."