U.S. Senate passes Billfish Conservation Act amendment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A proposal to regulate the sale of billfish in Hawai’i cleared its first major hurdle, Oct. 2, as the U.S. Senate voted to approve S. 396.

The bill, introduced in February by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida to make changes to certain marine conservation statutes, would amend the Billfish Conservation Act of 2012.

S. 396, if ultimately signed into law, would specifically limit the sale of U.S.-caught billfish to domestic markets.

“This bill requires billfish caught by U.S. vessels that land in Hawai’i or Pacific Insular Areas to be retained for sale in those areas,” a summary of S. 396 stated.

Current law allows U.S. fishing vessels catching billfish in Hawai’i or Pacific Insular Areas such as American Samoa, Guam and Midway Island to sell and export them to non-U.S. markets (or exported to other U.S. markets).

Billfish caught by U.S. fishing vessels in Hawai’i or Pacific Insular Areas could not be transported to Southern California if the Senate proposal is eventually signed into law, for example.

The Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 became law on Oct. 2012 and, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “prohibits any person from offering billfish or billfish products for sale, selling them, or having custody, control, or possession of them for purposes of offering them for sale.”

U.S. fishing vessels in Hawai’i and Pacific Insular Areas were exempt from the 2012 conservation law. The conservation act, however, did not include sale and transport restrictions introduced by Nelson.

Congress passed the Billfish Conservation Act, however, with the intent of protecting the reportedly overfished species.

“In passing the Billfish Conservation Act, Congress recognized the conservation challenges facing billfish populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,” NOAA staff explained on its website about the federal law. “Congress found that, despite careful management of domestic billfish fisheries, global billfish populations have declined significantly because of overfishing primarily through retention of bycatch by non-U.S. fishing fleets.”

Billfish, according to the conservation act, applies to black marlin, blue marlin, longbill spearfish, Mediterranean spearfish, sailfish, shortbill spearfish, striped marlin and white marlin. Swordfish are exempt from the Billfish Conservation Act of 2012.

Nelson’s proposal was introduced on the House of Representatives floor, Oct. 3, and immediately referred to its Committee on Natural Resources. The bill would go to Pres. Donald J. Trump’s desk if it passes out of the House.

SWFSC NOAA photo

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