Biodiversity Legal Foundation
P.O. Box 278
Louisville, CO 80027
Date: August 31, 2001
Contact: Jasper Carlton (BLF)
James R. Chambers
Chambers and Associates
CONSERVATIONISTS AND BIOLOGIST FILE PETITION
TO PROTECT ATLANTIC WHITE MARLIN
UNDER THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Louisville, CO. The Biodiversity Legal Foundation of Louisville, Colorado, and James R. Chambers of Kensington, Maryland, today filed a formal petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the Atlantic white marlin as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Petitioners also requested that action be taken immediately to prevent the species' rapid slide toward extinction.
White marlin, smallest of the world's four marlin species, range over much of the North and South Atlantic Oceans. The species is a mainstay of the $2.3 billion recreational billfish fishery along the U.S Atlantic and Gulf coasts and throughout the Caribbean Sea. To promote conservation, recreational fishermen now voluntarily release virtually all (approaching 99 percent) of the billfish they catch. However, industrial-scale fishing vessels from many nations, which are targeting more commercially valuable swordfish and tunas, catch and kill large numbers of white marlin and other species of the open ocean such as blue marlin, sailfish, endangered sea turtles, protected marine mammals, and juvenile swordfish that are too small to sell legally. According to James Chambers, "white marlin and these other species will continue to die until it is no longer profitable to fish for swordfish and tunas, whose populations are larger. White marlin will not be able to last that long."
After 30 years of increasingly severe commercial overfishing (using non-selective gear - longlines, gillnets and purse seines), the populations of the Atlantic Ocean's premiere game fish have all been driven to dangerously low levels of abundance. "In the greatest danger of extinction are white marlin whose population is extremely low and declining rapidly. In 1999, it had been driven to only 13 percent of its sustainable level (the minimum abundance level that responsible fishery managers would permit). Unless dramatic action is taken immediately, the white marlin will pass the "point of no return" or functional extinction in less than five years" said Chambers. "According to the best scientific and commercial data available, this is one of the most critically imperiled, yet unprotected, billfish species in the Atlantic Ocean and clearly merits listing and protection under the Endangered Species Act," said "Jasper" Carlton, Executive Director of the BLF.
The petitioners are calling for the U.S. government to exert bold leadership both domestically and internationally. Mortality must be reduced enough to allow the population to recover and their primary spawning and feeding areas must be closed to commercial fishing. "This action will also help protect imperiled Atlantic-wide blue marlin, sailfish, swordfish, spearfish, bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna and other oceanic species that depend for their survival on the same essential habitats," said Chambers.
The NMFS has 90 days in which to make a preliminary ruling on whether ESA listing of the Atlantic white marlin "may be warranted."
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