By IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser
Three years after the Billfish Conservation Act goes into effect, conservationists await new draft rule from National Marine Fisheries Service banning the sale of both foreign and domestic billfish in the continental United States.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been more than three years since President Barack Obama signed the Billfish Conservation Act (BCA) into law on Oct. 5, 2012. This historic piece of legislation banned the importation of billfish into the continental United States and also provided the means to take away the United States’ dubious distinction of being the world’s largest importer of billfish. This effort took nearly four years of blood, sweat and tears for IGFA and our partner Wild Oceans to accomplish, but we are now left with a federal law that governs billfish importation.
Since its passing, the BCA has been the responsibility of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), whose task is to develop and implement the law; one would think this task should be easy because the entire law is only two pages long. The BCA’s language is straightforward in that it strictly prohibits the importation and sale of billfish in the continental United States but still allows traditional harvest and sale within the Hawaiian Islands and Pacific territories.
What NMFS is trying to figure out, ever so slowly, is if the BCA legally allows billfish harvested in Hawaii to be shipped to the mainland United States. We say that it does not, for two main reasons: 1. Prohibiting importation from foreign countries but allowing Hawaii to ship billfish to the mainland most likely violates international trade treaties. 2. The BCA’s authors wrote and passed this important law to conserve billfish — not to supplant a sizable foreign billfish market with a domestic one.
Additionally, allowing Hawaii to ship billfish to the mainland necessitates NMFS to develop an effective and enforceable mechanism for differentiating between foreign- and domestic-caught billfish. Doing so would create substantially more work for NMFS. For the better part of a year and a half, NMFS has promised a draft rule. However, we’ve yet to see one. Hopefully, by the time this issue of Marlin reaches your house, one will exist. If indeed this early Christmas present occurs, we hope it reflects what the BCA’s authors intended. That is, no billfish — foreign or domestic — is to be sold in the continental United States, period.