WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The White Marlin, an imperiled billfish in the Atlantic Ocean, today took a significant step towards protection under the federal Endangered Species Act with the announcement of the launching of a formal status review of the species. Today’s announcement, published in the Federal Register by the National Marine Fisheries Service, comes pursuant to a court-approved settlement agreement resolving a lawsuit filed by two conservation organizations.
Overfishing has severely depleted the ocean’s large fish. A study published in Nature in 2003 documented the decline of large predatory fish by 90 percent over the world’s oceans. Of all these species, the White Marlin is perhaps the closest to actual extinction, and continues to be caught at levels that will cause continuing declines. While purse seining and recreation fisheries catch significant numbers of White Marlin, the biggest threat to the species comes from longline fishing.
In January 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service challenging the agency’s rejection of a petition to protect the White Marlin under the Endangered Species Act. The agency had reached this conclusion despite the findings of its own scientists that current harvest levels are unsustainable and that, even under the most optimistic management scenarios, the species would continue to decline to dangerously low levels. In October 2005, a federal judge approved a settlement of litigation requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service to revisit whether the White Marlin warrants the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
In October 2006, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a management plan that allows longline fishing to continue in important White Marlin spawning habitat. “The National Marine Fisheries Service had the opportunity to protect important White Marlin habitat from longlining and failed to do so,” said Brendan Cummings, Ocean Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Marlin is now on a course where only Endangered Species Act protection can stop its decline.”
In addition to its impact on White Marlin, longline fishing entangles and kills numerous other rare and vulnerable species. “Longline fishing is not just bad for White Marlin, but also for sea turtles, sea birds and marine mammals, all of which are unnecessarily killed by this destructive fishing gear,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
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