Billfish Conservation Act pushes forward in Senate

The tournament crew raises a blue marlin caught by Cory Racca at the 2013 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic.
The tournament crew raises a blue marlin caught by Cory Racca at the 2013 Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

The Billfish Conservation Act advanced by the Senate Commerce Committee last week.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) had introduced the bill in February. It was adopted and reported favorably without amendment during an executive session May 18.

The Billfish Conservation Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, bans the importation of all billfish caught by foreign fleets in the continental U.S. Some officials wondered about foreign-caught billfish caught commercially in Hawaii. Under this legislation, billfish landed in Hawaii must be kept on the Hawaiian islands.

Anglers and conservationists praise the Senate for advancing the Billfish Conservation Act. The next step is the House of Representatives.

“With S. 396 crossing its first hurdle in the Senate, we are hopeful that Congress will act quickly to finally ensure that the United States stands firm as the leader in billfish conservation,” Center for Sportfishing Policy President Jeff Angers said in a press release.

The Billfish Conservation Act’s supporters include the American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, OCEARCH and Wild Oceans.

“CCA supported the original Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 that had a loophole for billfish landed in Hawaii,” CCA Mississippi Government Relations Committee chairman F.J. Eicke said. “This bill now closes that loophole.

“Countries are starting to realize that prohibiting billfish commercial fisheries is an economic plus that spurs a recreational bonanza that has more impact. This is an international problem that we can only address at this point by prohibiting sale of billfish in the U.S.”

The Billfish Conservation Act’s definition of “billfish” exempts swordfish, but includes black marlin, blue marlin, longbill spearfish, mediterranean spearfish, sailfish, shortbill spearfish, striped marlin, white marlin.

“It brings us one step closer to ensuring that these magnificent fish are properly protected under the original intent of the law,” International Game Fish Association President Rob Kramer said.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic is set for June 5-11 at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi. The Golden Nugget is the tournament’s host.

James Jones: 228-896-2320, @_jkjones