ANNAPOLIS – The white marlin is not yet an endangered species, but there are so few left that Maryland’s governor is pressing for federal action to save the fish, a favorite of the state’s recreational fishing industry.
“Without help from the federal government . . . Ocean City is going to lose its title of `White Marlin Capital of the World,'” Gov. Parris Glendening said at a news conference here Thursday. “The national administration must be fully engaged.”
International fishing companies are the prime suspects in what the governor called the “devastation” of the white marlin, a prize migratory billfish that ranges throughout the Atlantic. The marlin is managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, whose members must comply with regulations protecting the fish.
Glendening filed a petition Thursday asking the U.S. secretaries of Commerce and State to “certify” which countries are in violation of ICCAT agreements.
“Years of overfishing by European and international companies have devastated the white marlin populations,” Glendening said, adding it’s imperative to act quickly to protect the fish. “This type of government action can make a difference.”
With a population of about 200,000, marlin have declined for three decades to less than 13 percent of their sustainable level, according to a petition lodged last year by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation to classify marlin as an endangered species.
Their decline is blamed on overfishing by foreign companies, whose nets often incidentally snare the fish. U.S. commercial fishing operations are required to return marlin to the water. The majority of marlin caught by recreational anglers also are released, said the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Yet the white marlin is not an endangered species, the service determined last month, though it remains a candidate for listing.
“It was not in danger of imminent extinction,” said John Graves, who served on the committee that compiled information for evaluation of the marlin.
Graves, also chairman of the ICCAT advisory committee, has seen many different efforts to curb the overfishing.
“In terms of management of all highly migratory species in the Atlantic . . . anything that we can do to get other nations to act responsibly in the fishing and trade of these animals is important,” he said of the governor’s efforts.
In Maryland, the white marlin is a longstanding part of the state’s natural heritage, and a symbol for many seaside towns, including Ocean City, Glendening said. Ocean City Mayor James Mathias accompanied the governor in pressing for action from the Bush administration.
“I urge our citizens to fall in” with the governor, Mathias said. “It’s about our fishery, it’s about our future, and it’s about our children.” – 30 – CNS-10-3-02