Can delegates from the U.S. snatch our mako fishery from the jaws of defeat at ICCAT?
At this point in the season, there are relatively few big game fishermen testing the edge in search of pelagics in The Fisherman region. Some boats to the southern range may squeeze through tight windows to get out for a few longfin, swordfish or tiles, while bluefin relatively close to shore will have others hunting ghosts before the year runs out; but for the most part, the oversized reels have been dropped by shops for winter maintenance while those canyon boats are being laid up for winter months.
And thus we head into another winter show season with sights fixed on tackle upgrades and new options for chasing down offshore giants. I know of more than a few contest organizers who are flipping ahead to weekends in the 2020 calendar in particular to pin down available days in which to schedule mako shark tournaments. Hopefully, this effort will not be in vain.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the deliberative body charged with the management and conservation of tuna and tuna-like species (pelagics including billfish and sharks). In a report given by the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) in Madrid, Spain earlier this year, ICCAT delegates from across the globe are being forced to deal with findings that indicate that any retention of shortfin makos will not permit the recovery of the stock by year 2070.
“Given the vulnerable biological characteristics of this stock and the pessimistic projections, to accelerate the rate of recovery and to increase the probability of success the Committee recommends that the Commission adopt a non-retention policy without exception in the North Atlantic as it has already done with other shark species caught as bycatch in ICCAT fisheries,” the SCRS noted. As you can imagine, many of the big named environmental organizations (Pew Charitable Trusts for example) have been running with this message, pushing for a complete shutdown of the mako shark fishery along the Atlantic Coast.
Shortfin mako was a huge discussion at ICCAT back in 2017, which is what prompted significant changes in the fishery as of 2018 when new sex-specific minimum sizes were implemented, 71 inches fork length for males and 83 inches fork length for females. Recreational shark anglers aboard HMS Permitted vessels are also required to use non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks in federal waters when fishing with baited hooks.
As for the impact of those recreational regulations on the North Atlantic mako fishery today, it’s still too early to tell. According to the SCRS report, the Committee will not be able to review 2019 shortfin mako catches until July of 2020 (noting that it will provide the Committee with only one year of data).
“The Committee had insufficient information to determine which ICCAT recommendations regarding possible conservation measures were implemented for which fleet, making it difficult to evaluate the effect of the possible conservation measures by fleet in the projections,” the report stated, adding that a general evaluation of the effect of the conservation measures did show that they were “insufficient to rebuild the stock within the specified timeframe.”
So the question remains, will there be a mako fishery for us in 2020? We should know more after the 26th regular meeting of ICCAT from November 18-25 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I know we can expect our U.S. advisors to fight hard for reasonable access; the truth is, non-retention of makos by American anglers will have minimal impact on the state of the world fishery. As is often the case, other ICCAT member nations could do so much more in terms of accurately reporting their landings and implementing new gear requirements (circle hooks and mono leaders) in their longline fleets to promote better mako release success, as has already been done in the United States by our fishermen.
The environmental community seems to be blindly working in overdrive to completely shut down our fishery; at the very least, one would hope these folks could bend a bit in favor of existing, historical tournaments, all of which already require permits and boast reporting requirement for 100% monitoring within the shark fishery. One would argue that a limited harvest exemption for our recreational mako contests would have a de minimus effect on the global fishery while positively contributing to the scientific understanding of this species at the same time.
And hopefully, when our weekly Offshore columns return for 2020, we’ll have need for a few “how to” mako articles after all.