THE continued slaughter of marlin by the long line fleet is creating a lot of anger and disappointment in rec fishing circles. The vast majority of Aussie sport and gamefishermen are vehemently opposed to the commercial exploitation of iconic gamefish like marlin – turning these majestic fish into sushi is not sustainable, nor does it do anything for our international environmental credibility. Furthermore, it's a total waste of a resource that has far more value in socio-economic terms as a recreational-only target.
Fishing World, along with many concerned anglers, is actively campaigning against the commercial exploitation of marlin by organising protest letters to federal ministers and also arranging a local version of the successful "Take Marlin Off The Menu" campaign being run by the IGFA in the US. See HERE for more details.
A continued and sustained campaign against AFMA, the federal agency which "manages" the marlin fishery, linked with an educational program aimed at alerting restaurants and fishmongers who use and sell marlin about the environmental issues associated with these fish, will more than likely result in gradual reductions in the amount of marlin the long line fleet is allowed to catch.
That is all positive and proactive stuff but it's time now to examine our own use of billfish resources. Should we as anglers being doing more to protect these great fish?
The current season has been relatively productive so far, with reasonable catches of blue, black and striped marlin off the east coast, especially in waters off central and southern NSW.
If long lining effort is gradually decreased due to increased regulation and a drop in consumer demand for marlin steaks, we can expect billfishing opportunities to continue to improve. This will be great news for anglers, boat builders, the tackle industry, charter operators and regional economies relying on the "fishing dollar" to boost their coffers each season.
However, the sight of dead marlin being strung up on gantries at game fishing comps, and the growing piles of marlin frames in the water at cleaning tables, is an issue all of us in the angling community need to address.
The simple fact of the matter is that we have to practice what we preach. Can we legitimately argue against commercial exploitation of marlin if we're in there killing the fish as well?
Attitudes to gamefish like marlin have evolved over the years. Nowadays most anglers catch and carefully release marlin. Figures indicate that more than 85 per cent of all marlin caught by recreational anglers are tagged and released. There's good scientific evidence obtained from various tagging studies that indicates that 90+ per cent of the blue, black and striped marlin we release successfully survive. This data indicates that marlin are an ideal Catch & Release species. However, plenty of marlin also get knocked on the head and weighed in at comps or are transformed into a large pile of steaks at boat ramp cleaning tables up and down the coast.
Is this acceptable in this day and age?
I'll be up front here and say that I have taken marlin, namely a couple of small blacks and a few stripes. In terms of edibility, the blacks were very ordinary and the stripes were ok. Considering the time and effort it takes to clean an average 80kg marlin, I'd probably rather take half a dozen flatties and a few reds. They taste better, are easier to process and, from an environmental aspect, are far more sustainable.
Read my recent blog HERE and you'll see that releasing a marlin gives me more far more of a buzz than gaffing one. I publicly state here and now that I have no intension of ever killing another marlin.
While you can justify the taking of any fish if you plan on eating it, it's pretty hard, at least in my opinion, for anyone to condone hanging a marlin just to get a few points in a game comp.
Given that, it time now that we take the plunge and declare marlin to be a release-only species?
Apart from ethics, there are some fairly pertinent scientific reasons why we shouldn't kill marlin.
Like all top-line predators, there are relatively few marlin compared to other fish. Thus they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Marlin are like lions or tigers in that they are at the very top of the food chain. There are always lots more prey animals than there are predators. That's why you see vast herds of gazelle and wildebeest and only a few lions on the African veldt.
It's exactly the same with marlin. For any given quantity of baitfish, there will only be relatively small number of billfish hunting them.
Given the hiding our marlin stocks are being given by the long liners, it makes sense for us as responsible, environmentally minded anglers to "let the marlin go".
If we mandate C&R for all marlin (apart, perhaps, for a very small number of fish which are up for serious consideration as records), we will be doing our bit to maintain and develop fish stocks. Importantly, we will also be taking the moral high ground in this ongoing fisheries management debate.
But if we keep stringing them up on gantries and cutting them into slabs on cleaning tables, we will be seen as being no different to the long liners. All our talk about "saving the marlin" will be nothing more than hypocrisy.
So, what do you reckon? Should we declare marlin as a "release-only" species? Sure, the long liners will keep killing them but if we take steps to self impose mandatory release status to all recreationally caught billfish we will have sent a strong message to government, fisheries managers, environment groups and the public at large.
And what is that message?
It's pretty simple. That we are trying to do the right thing by responsibly protecting these magnificent oceanic predators to (a) ensure biodiversity and (b) so that future generations can experience the thrills and spills of offshore gamefishing.
Let me know your thoughts on the above by making a comment below. If enough of you support this idea, I'll take it to the state Fisheries departments and to Dr Mike Kelly, the MP who's in charge of federal fisheries, to see what can be done.