The Bright Side: Who will help the striped marlin?

It sure seems that a lot of people in government these days are trying to convince us that we should not believe what we see with our own two eyes. Don’t worry though, this piece is not about politics. This is an outdoors column not a political column, so we’ll stick with fish “government.”

Just because the subject matter is the simple fish, don’t expect “government” to not issue incomprehensible statements. Some are clear and simple, but most are quite the opposite.


Example: The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) in 2019, indicated that current spawning stock biomass (North Pacific Striped Marlin) is depleted (SSB2018/SSB0=0.05) and the average fishing mortality rate in 2015-2017 was greater than the fishing mortality rate associated with MSY (F/FMSY= 1.07)

Translation: The striped marlin stock of the north and central Pacific Ocean is officially depleted, overfished and continues to experience overfishing. Okay, that’s not good. But why?

As you can see in Figure 2 (Page 2B), the percentage of the striped marlin catch by small boat trollers has steadily dwindled down to where you now can’t even see it on the graph. So it’s clear the small boat guys didn’t contribute to overfishing striped marlin.

This situation appears simple: the long line fleets have depleted the striped marlin stock, which has reduced fishing opportunities for small boat fishermen, who don’t have the capacity to overfish even if they wanted to.

The solution appears simple: the long line fleet should stop catching so many striped marlin. Guess what? A “government” agrees.

The international commission charged with managing our pelagic fish stocks is the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Management Commission. The USA is a member State. In December 2019, WCPFMC instructed its members to start rebuilding the striped marlin stock and said, “Members should consider reduced catch limits and retention, release and gear requirements, among other potential tools.” For a bureaucratic statement, this one is remarkably clear and simple.

Here in Hawaii, fisheries from three mile out to 200 miles, are “managed” by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. In a recent Summary of Action Items for their next meeting, the Council states that way back in 2014, at its 161st meeting they, “recommended the specification of annual Western and Central North Pacific striped marlin catch limit of 457 metric tons applicable to U.S. fisheries. As an accountability measure, the Council recommended the specification an annual limit of 434 mt of striped marlin applicable to the Hawai’i longline fishery (which is 95% of the 457 mt limit). If the 434 mt limit is reached, the Hawaii longline fishery would not be allowed to retain striped marlin, whereas other fisheries would not be restricted. This was in response to overfishing condition that the stock had persisted.” Italics mine.

Then, in 2015, they promptly landed more striped marlin than the quota allowed – 490 metric tons — according to a 2019 government report. (Link provided at bottom)

More from the WESPAC Action Items: “In June 4, 2020, the Council was notified of the overfishing condition of the stock from a 2019 stock assessment and its obligation to act within one year of notification pursuant to MSA 304(i) – these obligations are to 1) address relative impacts of Council-managed stocks on internationally overfished stocks and 2) to make further recommendations to the State Department to help end international overfishing.” They already said they knew of overfishing back in 2014.

“At its 183rd Meeting, the Council recommended that phased catch limits developed by PIFSC be used as a basis to propose a CMM which would initiate a total allowable catch of striped marlin among all nations in the North Pacific, with a catch limit of striped marlin by US vessels to be 457 mt, consistent with previous Council actions.”

So what you are reading is that the Council recommends a total allowable catch limit based upon the 457mt catch limit from 2014 – the very same quota that contributed to the striped marlin stock crashing, and to become depleted – and allowed overfishing to continue.

It is hard to believe your own eyes, isn’t it? Just wait, it gets even harder.

According to the WESPAC Summary of Action Items; “The United States may propose a CMM for North Pacific striped marlin to the WCPFC, which would establish catch limits for U.S. fisheries and be incorporated into Amendment 8. However, this measure may not materialize.” Italics theirs.

Translation: We may do something but it may not get done.

Further in that same WESPAC Summary; “The Council may elect to take no action, thus proceeding with catch limits adopted by CMM 2010-01 under the auspices of Amendment 8, which is to be finalized by the March 2021 meeting.” This says that they may proceed with catch limits that have already contributed to the stock crashing and to become depleted.

In summary: the international commission (WCPFMC) handed down a directive for each member to start implementing measures to rebuild the stock and WESPAC has agreed to start by sticking with a quota that didn’t work, if they decide to do anything at all. But there is more.

On May 7, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) 13921 that was designed to promote American seafood competitiveness and economic growth. The EO instructed Councils to come up with ways to achieve these goals.

The WESPAC Council recently submitted their recommendations to the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA. Ironically, one of the recommendations is to repeal a section of the Billfish Conservation Act that prohibits the Hawaii commercial fleet to sell marlin to the US Mainland, a section Congress put in to prevent overfishing.

So on the one hand, they may but may not do anything to rebuild an overfished stock, while simultaneously petitioning the US government for permission to sell more marlin – while they may continue to fish under the same rules that resulted in overfishing in the first place – when in fact, they were instructed rebuild the striped marlin stock, and; “to make further recommendations to the State Department to help end international overfishing,”

Don’t take my word for it. Read with your own eyes. Is seeing believing? You judge.


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