09/11/2009 - Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were extremely busy last week, fielding more than 57,000 comments they received opposing a proposal that further incentivizes pelagic longliners to target Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the fish’s only known western Atlantic spawning area.
“This tremendous outpouring of public support for protecting bluefin tuna, marlins and sailfish in the Gulf of Mexico should be a wakeup call to NMFS,” said Lee Crockett, director of Federal Fisheries Policy at the Pew Environment Group. “NMFS should manage these iconic species for the benefit of all Americans.”
Every spring, sexually mature western Atlantic bluefin tuna return to loop current gyres in the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. Scientists estimate that the number of mature western Atlantic bluefin tuna has dropped more than 80 percent since 1970. Less than 20,000 spawning adults may remain.
Most of the population’s decline is a result of intense commercial fishing and “incidental” killing by vessels targeting yellowfin tuna and swordfish in the bluefin’s spawning grounds. That’s why 14 recreational fishing organizations and conservation groups have demanded a closure of pelagic longlining in the spawning area, a move that would also benefit beleaguered populations of white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, and sailfish, as well as loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.
“Anything we can do to protect these fragile species in their spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico would benefit all user groups,” said Ray Rosher, renowned Miami-based charter captain. ”And the conservation of these species is crucial to all user groups,” he added.