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OFF the back of a massive rebound in stocks, US anglers in south eastern states have been targeting broadbill swordfish in daylight hours using electric assisted reels in water as deep as 600 metres.

Rigs can weigh up to seven kg so some assistance in retrieving them to check baits is much appreciated. These reels can be used in much the same way as we do to target deep water dwellers such as blue eye trevalla and gemfish, but have the added feature of allowing the angler to turn off the electric assist when a broadbill is hooked, allowing it to be fought in the normal manner.

Some of the WA crew have been over to check out the techniques and have been applying them locally, as reported in News late last year.

The stock rebound was caused largely by closures of key pelagic longlining areas once the fisheries management authorities realised the stocks were in big trouble. Some exceptional fish breeding years followed. As a result, the size range of recreationally-caught broadbill started to climb, from 15 to 20kg typically in the early 2000s to 200kg specimens currently. Not surprisingly, recreational fishing-linked businesses have boomed in parallel to the increased, better sized captures.

Now you might be waiting for a sad sequel to this tale, such as the re-opening of commercial fishing once the stocks rebuilt in the off-limit areas. But it didn’t happen. The authorities realised how valuable an economic resource rec-only broadbill were, so they kept the pros out. There was only one fly in the ointment. Commercial swordfish quotas are allocated between nations in a similar way as bluefin tuna are in our region. Managers started to worry that if the US commercial catch dropped too low other fishing countries would argue for a larger share of the rebuilt stocks.

So how to protect the rec fishery and not be penalised by giving away commercial fishing rights to other countries?

In what to us might seem a radical move, the US regulators decided that from 2014 rec anglers could purchase a Swordfish General Commercial Permit for $20, allowing boats to keep two to three fish per day (depending on the zone they’re fishing) and sell them. This is only for designated zones, not ocean-wide. Anglers are requested to report what they’ve caught and kept, and this weight of fish is then added to the quota of fish taken and reported to the international management commission.

So is this a brilliant move to protect the rec fishery and the broadbill stocks, or a reversion to the old days of rec-driven meat fishing? It sure raises some interesting issues, but you’ve got to admit it looks like both a radical and clever solution to a complex fisheries management dilemma.

John Newbery is Fishing World's Environment Editor.


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