Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Mexican fishermen head campaign to save marlin stock

AP , CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO

Sports fishermen better known for battling marlin with rod and reel now are defending their beloved game fish by launching a high-profile campaign to convince diners not to order marlin at restaurants, under the slogan: "No Marlin on the Menu!''

With stocks of the spike-nosed marlin becoming smaller and harder to find even in the Pacific, many anglers have turned to keeping only one fish per day, per boat, to preserve the population and are now focusing on commercial fishing of the species.

"We have decided to take it to the next level, an aggressive, proactive stance where we will have a lot of media brought to the attention of the status of the species, and then start with mailings and advertisements," said Ellen Peel, president of the Billfish Foundation, a Miami, Florida-based anglers group.

Previously confined to pressing individual restaurants to take the fish off the menu, Peel expects the broader public campaign to get in gear by summer.

But it is already being taken up by fishermen in Cabo San Lucas, considered by many the marlin capital of the world, after sportsmen here waged a bruising battle to limit commercial shark-fishing boats that scoop up marlin, Dorado, swordfish and sailfish, all of which are reserved by law in Mexico for anglers within 80km of shore.

They say the biggest threat to the marlins' home turf -- the wild blue waters off the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula -- are commercial boats that say they're going after low-value, increasingly rare shark, but actually scoop up marlin and other game fish as so-called accidental "by-catch."

"We all know there are hardly any sharks left in this area, so they're going to come in with shark permits and the incidental [by-catch] becomes their objective," sports fishing boat operator Tracy Ehrenberg said.

Sportsmen realized that in order to limit "accidental" catches of game fish, they had to eliminate the incentive to catch them, by making the fish unsellable.

But Raul Villasenor, a director of the national fisheries commission, said that between 2005 and last year two commercial boats had been found carrying high percentages of game fish.

He said an estimated 1,200kg of game fish were found on one of the boats.

Besides pressing local restaurants not to serve Pacific marlin and diners not to order the dish, the activists are also seeking a ban on the sale of Pacific marlin, similar to one in place for years in the US for Atlantic marlin.

The Baja California state government has endorsed such a ban, and some restaurant owners are in agreement.

Mauricio Sevilla, who runs Cabo San Lucas' iconic The Giggling Marlin Bar & Grille, said he never has sold marlin, and never would.

"Here, people leave marlin for the sports fishermen, because they're the town's attraction," Sevilla said.

To save game fish, Baja California Senator Luis Coppola has proposed a ban on all fishing for sharks.

While data shows that Atlantic Marlin are seriously overfished -- White Marlin are at about 13 percent of population levels considered healthy -- much less is known about Pacific Marlin.

But fishermen say they are becoming scarcer.

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