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Billfish Conservation Act Becomes Law

On October 5, 2012, President Obama signed the Billfish Conservation Act into law, effectively banning the importation of all billfish into the continental United States. The signing marks the culmination of a united undertaking by a diverse coalition of angling and conservation organizations working in cooperation with a bipartisan group of congressional champions.  Although there are no commercial fisheries targeting billfish in the US, the US has been the largest importer of billfish in the world, importing about 30,000 billfish annually.

“This is a tremendous success for these highly migratory species,” National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) President Ken Hinman said. “Marlin, sailfish, and spearfish do not know country boundaries and travel through three of the planet’s oceans. Giving them greater protection in the United States sets the stage for better protection worldwide.”

With the largest buyer out of the market, the NCMC and International Game Fish Association (IGFA), who championed the bill, will now turn their attention to the international challenges facing these imperiled species. And with populations of three species of marlin having declined by more than 50%, their efforts come not a moment too soon.

“Recreational anglers and ocean conservationists have been the primary supporters behind the Billfish Conservation Act,” IGFA President Rob Kramer commented, “and I am confident that with this strong step by the United States, we will be able to raise support for more robust measures elsewhere.”

The support of the Billfish Conservation Act by groups like the American Sportfishing Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Keep America Fishing, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, OCEARCH and numerous partners in the environmental community played an integral part in the bill’s success.

“We have sound science that indicates that billfish are not doing well on a global level,” IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser added. “Better international protection for these fish benefits open ocean ecosystems and recreational anglers around the world.”  

Background: The legislation, H.R. 2706, was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) along with fellow Co-Chair Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR) and Vice Chairs Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) serving as lead original cosponsors. They were also joined by, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), and Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK).

In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA), and co-sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). 

The legislation prohibits the importation of all billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in the United States, while still allowing for traditional fisheries within the State of Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Area.  Swordfish are not included in the prohibition. Marlin, sailfish and spearfish, collectively called billfish, are some of the world’s most majestic marine fish.  They are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.   Billfish are also highly esteemed by recreational anglers the world over, and catch-and-release fisheries for these species support many marine jobs and generate billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

Unfortunately, the world’s billfish stocks are seriously imperiled from non-U.S. commercial fishing. Billfish are primarily caught as by-catch in commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries, but the by-catch is harvested and sold internationally, with the United States serving as the world’s largest importer of billfish. 

There are many sustainable alternatives for restaurants and retailers to offer in place of billfish; thus most restaurants have taken marlin and other billfish off the menu.