By Capt. John McMurray
Readers of this blog may or may not read my column in Fly Fishing in Saltwaters Magazine (FFSW). I’m not trying to promote it here, but I do want to point out the recent column on bluefin tuna: (http://www.flyfishinsalt.com/species/conservation/the-bluefin-dilemma-1000064910.html ) I’m told by the editors over at FFSW that it’s generating quite a bit of mail, some of it in support and some of it, well, not so nice. So, I wanted to justify some things here.
If you read the piece you may have been dismayed that I suggested a 5 year moratorium on the species when perhaps to you they seem abundant (particularly if you fish in Cape Cod). However, just because you may have some infrequent concentrations of bluefin in your neck of the woods, it does not mean the stock is abundant and healthy. Such localized concentrations only serve to highlight the lack of the species elsewhere.
Here are the facts. Every single piece of peer-reviewed science out there on bluefin indicates that they are in trouble. Bad trouble… As I mention in the article, our western fish are only 10% of what they were in the 70’s and they are still declining. The commercial bluefin industry has not been able to meet their quota because there simply aren’t enough fish around anymore. Many scientists are suggesting that the western Atlantic bluefin is on a path to extinction, and that’s no joke.
All indicators are pointing to a population collapse in the near future unless something drastic is done immediately. So, absolutely, I think we need a 5 year moratorium if there is to be any hope for a recovery. And I’ll stand by that statement with conviction.
If you are an angler that regularly targets bluefin, you might be saying that it’s not you, but the commercial folks that cause all the problems. This is simply not true anymore. As I pointed out in the article, recreational catches now make up 70% of the total U.S. catch by weight, and by number anglers account for about 90% of the fishing mortality! Bluefin that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico don’t mature until about age12 so the reality is that with every fish killed below 90” anglers are “robbing the cradle”. Juveniles are now crucial to rebuilding the bluefin population and we are generally the ones preventing such a rebuild.
You may now be saying that the stock decline wasn’t the fault of anglers. On this, you are entirely correct. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what it takes to insure that it rebuilds. If we don’t it’s very possible, in fact likely, that we will lose them forever. I certainly don’t want that to happen on my watch. Do you?
I’m not suggesting anglers immediately give up all bluefin fishing because I wrote some stupid article in FFSW. I’m suggesting managers take notice of the bluefin decline and seriously consider a 5 year moratorium along with a complete closure of the Gulf of Mexico spawning areas. Until such action is taken, I don’t hold it against anglers for doing what is completely legal, although I do believe that releasing bluefin is possible and a much better choice than keeping them. I know that’s difficult to do, given their excellent taste and the hard fact that a lot don’t survive the fight. But just remember that with proper tackle and handling, it can be done.
Now, I want to address those folks who feel that with such an article, I’m selling anglers down the river. Certainly that is not my intention. My intention is to insure that my kids will be able to target these fish when they are old enough to do so. If that means I can’t fish them for 5 years, I’m willing to make that sacrifice… Are you???
Important note on “Flexability in American Fishery Law” Bills as they relate to bluefin tuna:
Over the years ICCAT has managed to disregard the science on bluefin at almost every turn. Time and time again, history tells us that when the advice of scientists is not heeded, problems worsen, sometimes catastrophically. Fisheries managers are notorious for ignoring scientific advice, and this has caused major problems for fish and fishermen. Thus, it’s worthy of noting here that the current “Flexibility in America’s Fishery Law” being pushed by commercial and some recreational fishing advocacy groups would most certainly serve to worsen this situation. These bills are nothing less than efforts to elevate short-term business interests above the long term health of the resource and should be opposed at every turn. I’m surprised and dismayed that some local groups that include the word “conservation” in their title support such unwise and reckless bills. (CCA rightfully opposes the bills, so I’m not speaking of them). When all is said and done, those who spend any time at all thinking about the issues will realize that bluefin exemplify the inevitable result of such an industry-first approach to management.