Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2002 Newsletter)

NMFS determines White Marlin are not endangered - Maybe


NMFS has determined that Atlantic White Marlin does not warrant a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (At this time) 

In September 2001, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation of Colorado and James R. Chambers, petitioned NMFS to list the white marlin as endangered or threatened throughout its range, and to designate its critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In December 2001, NMFS found that the petition to list white marlin contained substantial information that warranted further examination. NMFS initiated a comprehensive review of the status of the species. NMFS’s Saint Petersburg, Florida office held a number of public meetings to solicit New or Additional information from the public about the status of white marlin for their review process. They created a status review team of 6 people to look at this species very carefully. They determined that although the species has declined greatly from historic levels, it is not currently at a level that warrants listing under the ESA.


Dr. Hogarth, the head of NMFS, said, “Over the past few years, the United States, in partnership with the international community (ICCAT), has implemented additional restrictions to reduce the mortality of Atlantic white marlin. We will continue to push for additional conservation measures, as necessary, consistent with our solid commitment to rebuilding. Our scientists will carefully monitor the results of conservation efforts already underway and a FULL ESA REVIEW WILL BE CONDUCTED WITHIN FIVE YEARS”.  Please note, that according to this NMFS press release, US fishermen have achieved a temporary stay of execution, not a total pardon on the ESA issue.


Like many things in Washington, politics have a major role in any major decision such as declaring white marlin endangered under the ESA. The economic cost to US businesses that support, perform repairs for, sell to and service US Highly Migratory Species (HMS) fishermen would have been huge.  US fishermen both Commercial and Recreational together catch less than 5 % of the white marlin caught in the Atlantic and they release alive most of those caught. The number of white marlin landed is tiny compared to the other Atlantic Ocean fishing nations. Totally closing our EEZ to all white marlin mortality under ESA would never bring white marlin back now or any time in the future. Much credit for the "not endangered" choice must be given to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and James A. Donofrio, their executive director. The RFA waged a major campaign to prevent the proposed draconian measures that would have destroyed sportfishing as we know it.  Their press release on ESA says, “The RFA team of lobbyists spent months working with members of Congress on this issue, mobilizing individuals and industry representatives to provide NMFS with information on the status of white marlin and pursuing alternative conservation measures for white marlin.”   Thank you, Jim, the RFA staff and supporting members, for a job well done.


Anyone who has reads this column knows that the decimation of white marlin and tunas, sharks and swordfish is due to the other ICCAT members failing to comply with their agreed formal obligations under ICCAT. Only Canada and Japan are making an effort to comply with their ICCAT agreements. The European Union nations and other contracting nations have a long and deplorable history of non-compliance with ICCAT conservation measures or their ICCAT quotas for HMS species.  Our great east coast HMS species fishing will fade away unless these nations begin to comply with their commitment to ICCAT. They must implement the conservation treaty measures they have agreed to observe. After trying the ICCAT system for 26 years with almost nothing to show for their hard work, it is time that US interests begin to support a new approach. 


The HMS fish resource is very important to US businesses and fishermen.  Its continued decline will have huge negative effects on the US economy. A workable solution must be found - and quickly.  This is absolutely necessary if we want to catch a marlin, tuna, swordfish or shark in future years. 


The RFA has hired Bart S. Fisher, the nation’s leading expert on international trade law, to file a petition under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, with the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The RFA’s goal is to open an official investigation into other countries’ non-compliance with ICCAT rules and its effect on US business. The acceptance of this petition by USTR should give the U.S. ICCAT delegation tremendous leverage to negotiate conservation measures at the ICCAT meeting in Spain this November. RFA believes this could be the biggest breakthrough in the conservation of our highly migratory species in 30 years. On September 11, 2002 the RFA filed the 301 petition with the United States Trade Representative. The RFA is engaged in a massive lobbying effort to build an unprecedented coalition of recreational, commercial and environmental organizations in support of the Section 301 petition.

This approach needs success to save the HMS species from international treaty breaking and the resulting HMS overfishing.  They have our total support for this approach.