Fishing: Commercial anglers greatest threat to ocean-roaming giants

By Geoff Thomas

Fish like this striped marlin can be measured in the water and released. Photo / Supplied
Fish like this striped marlin can be measured in the water and released. Photo / Supplied

The black marlin caught by Moss Burmester and featured in the Herald recently was not the first to ever visit our waters, as stated by one letter writer.

It was the first to be taken by a spear fisherman however, armed only with a speargun, no scuba gear but a mask and a snorkel. It was a dangerous undertaking, a bit like taking on a lion with a .22 rifle.

Thousands of black marlin visit our waters every year and many are caught by anglers - most of them tagged and released.

Killing a marlin is a personal decision and not one that appeals to me.

I also don't like that style of fishing because you simply don't catch many fish: you can fish for marlin for weeks or even months and never see one. But the sense of achievement when one finally catches a marlin after years of trying is huge. It is something to be applauded.

A friend managed just such a feat recently while fishing off the coast of Raglan and, to his credit, he took a photo and released the great fish. As he said: "It would have filled the boat, and what as I going to do with it?"

While a marlin appears to be such a magnificent creature and a shame to catch, they are not in danger from NZ anglers, even less so from spear fishermen like Burmester. Only a handful of striped marlin have ever been taken with a speargun.

His feat was notable in that it was the first black to be speared, and they are always larger than the more common striped marlin.

Like other species, including tuna, they roam international waters, following the great oceanic currents that bring warm waters to our shores every summer.

It is in the international waters that they are truly vulnerable. A million longline hooks are set on lines that measure hundreds of kilometres in the South Pacific every day. Ships from many nations work these waters, and there is no limit to what they take.

They are targeting tuna, but there is a lucrative bycatch in the thousands of marlin and sharks hooked on the longlines. The marlin are a valuable commercial catch in some countries.

Sharks are stripped of their fins and the trunk discarded, sometimes while the fish is still alive. This practice, sustained by a demand in Asian countries for the dried fins, is justifiably condemned by just about everyone, including sports fishermen.

Fortunately in this country, marlin or shark fins can not be sold, but broadbill swordfish, which is a relative of the marlin family, is very valuable and is exported and sold in fish shops here. As a result, populations of these magnificent fish, which are regarded by anglers as the toughest opponent of all, are under threat.

Letter writers who are so quick to criticise anglers should, if they are true to their convictions, never buy a can of tuna from the supermarket. For they are condemning many thousands more marlin to oblivion than are ever hooked by those fishing from small boats around our coast.

Highly valuable commercial species like tuna and marlin are among the world's most threatened fish. What can save them is international co-operation. Populations can bounce back, if given a chance, as they grow very fast.

A marlin takes only five years to reach what is regarded as acceptable takeable size in the sport fishing word (90kg), although that applies only to records and is not a legal requirement. Tuna grow much faster.

Conversely, bottom dwellers like hapuku grow very slowly, and that is the reason they are now found only in deep water.

It is money contributed by the sport fishing fraternity that has led to the only international action to monitor the health of the fisheries, and try to limit catches - both recreationally and commercially.

The United States is the leader in this respect. Game fishing competitions there now forbid any fish to be killed. They must be photographed and measured because placings are awarded on length only, which can be done in the water, and the fish released unharmed.

We are still way behind in this country when it comes to running fishing contests, but attitudes are changing and hopefully one day we will adopt the same approach.

Freshwater

Fish and Game released 1000 yearling rainbow trout into Lake Tarawera, at The Landing, this week.

It is part of the annual liberation of a total of 12,500 young trout into the lake each year, to supplement the natural population. Similar liberations are made in Lakes Rotoiti and Okataina.

Tip of the week

When releasing fish it is best to leave them in the water and flick out the hook with pliers. Their eyes are not designed for coping with bright sunlight and the layer of mucus on the skin should not be disturbed by holding it.

Bite times
Bite times are 5.15am and 5.35pm today, and 6am and 6.20pm tomorrow. More fishing action can be found at GTTackle.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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