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PLENTY OF FISH IN THE SEA?
Martin Kane
January 31, 1966
Don't believe it. An ancient technique of commercial fishing has proved so efficient that sportsmen fear it will destroy big game fishing in a few years. Called long-lining, and used on an enormous scale by the Japanese, the practice already has begun to deplete the world stock of tuna, marlin and swordfish
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January 31, 1966

Plenty Of Fish In The Sea?

Don't believe it. An ancient technique of commercial fishing has proved so efficient that sportsmen fear it will destroy big game fishing in a few years. Called long-lining, and used on an enormous scale by the Japanese, the practice already has begun to deplete the world stock of tuna, marlin and swordfish

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THE RISE BEFORE THE FALL

YEAR

FISH IN 100'S

HOOKS IN 1000'S

Blue Marlin

Striped Marlin

Hooks

Blue Marlin

Striped Marlin

Hooks

1956

10

0

10

400

0

400

1957

85

20

70

3400

800

2800

1958

125

35

105

5000

1000

4200

1959

120

25

70

4800

1000

2800

1960

120

35

85

4800

1400

3400

1961

215

310

300

8600

12400

12000

1962

430

600

700

17200

24000

28000

1963

745

1250

1250

30000

50000

50000

The world population of big game fishes—most notably swordfish, the marlins, sailfish and the various tunas—is threatened with early decimation. A technique of commercial fishing that is centuries old but has been applied on a large scale only recently is ravaging the oceans. It is called long-lining, and it is the subject of dismayed denunciation in every big game fishing port on the coastal perimeter of the U.S., throughout the Caribbean, along the coast of Mexico, in Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand. It has sparked skirmishes between sport and commercial fishermen. It has alarmed marine scientists, most of whom concede its devastating effects as a matter of common sense but urgently need funds to establish scientifically the precise extent of the harm it has done to fish populations already and what its continued untrammeled use portends. Objective of the research: international controls. To many a saltwater angler the prospect that such controls can be instituted in time is dim.

Robert S. Nyburg, a Baltimore sport fisherman and advertising man who specializes in billfish, fears that "there may be no more [saltwater] sport fishing in this country" by 1970. (If you think striped bass are a sport fish, Nyburg does not know you. He thinks in terms of bigger game.) "There is a real and present danger," Nyburg says, "that, unless some fast action is taken, there will be no more marlin, sailfish, giant tuna or broadbill fishing on either coast of the United States in a very few years."

At least equally alarmed is Ed Louys, executive secretary and director of the Caribbean Gamefishing Association.

"Soon there will be no fishing in the Caribbean," he said recently in Miami. "Commercial fishermen themselves told me this in Venezuela, in Trinidad, in Jamaica—that, unless restrictions are placed on this fishing, they will be destroyed. Since the long-lining thing came out we have been answering questions from hundreds of people asking what we should do, what can we do, to prevent overfishing."

Gerald Talbert, head of the Tiburon ( Calif.) Marine Laboratory of the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, believes that since the Japanese are by far the most extensive users of long-lining, "our only hope is to appeal to the basic good nature and the sense of fair play among the Japanese people." "If properly approached," he says, "I believe they would understand and withdraw from the sport-fishing area. So far as I know, no official protest has ever been entered."

Though there are others who hold that the only effective recourse would be a threat of economic sanctions in areas other than fishing, Talbert's view is by no means naive. The Japanese have been singularly cooperative in game-fish tagging programs aimed at understanding and eventual conservation of the fish involved and are more aware than any other national fishery of the excessive efficiency of long-lining. But they do need enormous quantities of fish to supply the protein requirements of their national diet, as do many island peoples. To pose the importance of recreational fishing against this need may be difficult, but there is more to it than that. While long-line fishing has been profitable for them, their catches have begun to thin out under long-lining pressure and they might well be amenable to international controls if these were to be proposed with sound scientific backing.

Unfortunately, sound scientific backing does not exist. If sufficient research grants were available immediately, it might take five years or more to put together a persuasive argument of solid scientific validity. In five years, many sport fishermen believe, the whole matter may be tragically academic.

Long-lining is as simple as it is ancient. Tie a line to the handle of a glass jug, add a hook and bait to the line and toss the jug over the side. As the jug drifts free, the bait will attract a fish. When a fish is hooked it pulls against the resistance of the jug and seemingly tries to drag it under. The jug always wins. The fish is inevitably exhausted. The fisherman recovers the jug and hauls in the fish.

Multiply that single hook by thousands and the glass jug by hundreds of glass-ball floats, all connected by surface lines that, strung together, may extend 10 miles or more, and you have long-lining, the deadliest method of ocean fishing ever devised.

The long-line's basic unit, called a "basket" because the line is coiled into baskets on deck, is a main line about 300 yards long, buoyed to the surface by float lines. Branch lines, to which baited hooks are attached, extend down into the water at variable depths. About 10 hooks are used for every 300 yards or so of main line. Baskets are connected one to another until a length of 10 miles or more may be reached. Adrift in a current, such a line has the effect of a wide broom sweeping the sea.

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