A dead juvenile swordfish, bycatch of a longline
ArteSub / Alamy Stock Photo
The debate over the wealth of biomass in the oceans has raged on for decades, and for all of us recreational anglers, it appears we just took a big blow. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently announced that longline boats can now fish the eastern coast of Florida, which was previously protected from such commercial operations.
Longlining is no stranger to bad press, so it's not shock that many of the notable organizations are in an uproar. Everyone from The Billfish Foundation, all the way to Sportfishing Magazine are expressing their displeasure with the NMFS's ham-handed decision. While we always like to keep an open mind when it comes to fishermen and fisheries making a living, this particular move is really tough to make sense of.
The previously closed zone had seen a major rebound in fish stocks in recent years, and many of the locals anglers, or charter captains aren’t staying quiet about the impact this is sure to have on their hobby, and businesses. With Florida’s annual income from recreational fishing nearing $8 billion dollars, it’s no surprise to see the level of emotion and concern from those opposed to the measure.
Credit: Oliver Ridley Project
While no one wants to take hard-earned money out of the hands of commercial fishermen, it’s hard to get past the inefficiencies in longline operations. While the amount of bycatch may not be on the level of a bottom trawling operation, it’s certainly hard to get past the dead sea turtles, sharks, juvenile billfish, whales, and dolphin that fall victim to the longlines each year.
Seafoodwatch.org estimates that as many as 200,000 loggerhead sea turtles and 50,000 leatherback sea turtles are caught annually. While no fisherman would ever intentionally catch a non-targeted species, the end result remains the same.
Only time will tell what the long term environmental impact of the new laws will be, but in the short term it certainly seems that Florida’s elected officials are easily influenced by the commercial fisheries lobby. It’s a shame they have yet to realize the nearly $8B recreational goldmine they have sitting under their noses.