WASHINGTON – James Motsko worries that Ocean City will lose its title as the “White Marlin Capital of the World” if the government does not take action against foreign countries whose fishermen are threatening the sport fish.
Motsko, founder and president of the White Marlin Open, told a House subcommittee Thursday that foreign violations of international preservation agreements are threatening “the entire recreational fishing industry along the East Coast.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service agrees. In a report this month, it said that about 95 percent of the white marlin’s decline is due to overfishing by foreign fleets, which use longlines that tend to indiscriminately kill fish, including marlin.
The fisheries service report also said that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which is supposed to regulate marlin stocks, has repeatedly done nothing when faced with violations by foreign fleets.
Motsko, other industry members and marlin experts urged the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans to back a resolution that threatens trade sanctions against foreign violators, like Spain and Portugal. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
“If they’re not playing by the rules you got to do something to make them hurt,” Motsko said. “You can’t just ignore it.”
The fisheries service investigation found that the Atlantic white marlin population is only at five to 15 percent of the total level that the environment can support, and stocks are still declining.
The service did not add white marlin to the list of threatened or endangered species, but it did place the fish on the candidate list, for another review of its status in five years.
Recreational marlin fishing has grown to become an industry in this country, said Rick Weber, a marina owner and manager of South Jersey Marina and Yacht Sales in Cape May, N.J.
“These people are fanatics,” he said of marlin fishermen. “The boats they buy are . . . built for it.”
Weber said there are “a lot of jobs” related to marlin fishing because of the electronics, tackle and other equipment needed.
Motsko said the open alone generates more than $20 million in a one-week period in Ocean City, not including the hotel, restaurant and tourism revenue from the 20,000 spectators and 2,400 participants who came to town for the event last summer.
But gear used by foreign commercial fleets for tuna — traditional longlines with baited hooks every few feet for about 50 feet, Motsko said — leads to other fish, turtles and sharks getting caught and dying.
Science experts said the legislation should not just focus on white marlin because the ICCAT issued new regulations last year and it is too soon to tell if they are working. They said swordfish and bluefish should be included because of similar overfishing violations.
But all agreed that something needs to be done and soon.
“We have to get this pushed through,” Motsko said. “It has a huge, huge ripple-down effect” on the industry.