From: wildnet@ecoterra.net
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 17:53:09 EDT

Conservationists ride ‘Storm’ tide
Hopes that hit film will help swordfish preservation efforts

WASHINGTON, July 17 — The hit movie “The Perfect Storm” recounts the
final voyage of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, sunk in a ferocious storm
after venturing far from shore.Conservationists hope the film also
focuses attention on what sent the vessel 1,500 miles off the New
England coast: the depleted swordfish population.

‘The overarching problem is we’re catching swordfish before they’ve had
a chance to reproduce.’ VIKKI SPRUILL
“THE TIMING of the film was fortuitous,” said Vikki Spruill, executive
director of SeaWeb, a conservation group running a public education
campaign around the movie. “We’re trying to use the film to draw
attention to this larger problem.”
Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on
fisheries conservation, wildlife and oceans, said swordfishing is a
victim of its own popularity.
“On the one hand we have this tremendous appetite for seafood, which
creates a high price,” Saxton said. “At the same time, we’ve developed
technologies that allow us to find the fish in a scientific way.”
Worry over swordfish depletion is being addressed on several levels.
Conservationists eagerly anticipate an Aug. 1 ruling by the National
Marine Fisheries Service that may close nearly 200,000 square miles in
the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to “pelagic longline” fishing, a
highly successful but indiscriminate technique by which miles of hooked
and baited fishing lines are suspended at a predetermined depth.

SeaWeb, through its “Perfect Storm” education campaign, supports the
proposal because it would protect swordfish nursery areas. “The
overarching problem is we’re catching swordfish before they’ve had a
chance to reproduce,” Spruill said.
The fisheries service also plans to implement reduced quotas recommended
late last year by the International Commission for the Conservation of
Atlantic Tunas. The lower quotas will be enforced over the next three
fishing seasons.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, which created SeaWeb, recently formed the Pew
Oceans Commission, which will spend 18 months studying issues including
And in Congress, competing bills by Saxton and Sen. John Breaux, D-La.,
would create a voluntary buyback program to encourage swordfish and tuna
longliners to give up their permits in exchange for up to $450,000 in
compensation from the federal government.
The Blue Water Fishermen’s Association, which represents commercial
fishermen, favors Breaux’s bill because it would focus specifically on
the several dozen vessels that will be directly affected by the closure
of swordfish nursery areas. Some major environmental groups prefer
Saxton’s broader approach.

Commercial fishing advocates say they support most efforts to boost the
swordfish population through quotas and other regulations, as long as
they are applied fairly to all countries.
“Common sense says nobody wants to fish themselves out of business,”
said Linda Candler, vice president of communications for the National
Fisheries Institute, which represents commercial fishermen and others in
the seafood industry.
In his book “The Perfect Storm,” Sebastian Junger detailed the pressures
and challenges facing commercial fishermen since the introduction of
longlining in the early 1960s.
By the late 1970s, Junger wrote, “the gold rush was on” as fisherman
used satellite navigation and electronic fish finders, as well as new
monofilament that made it possible to set lines 30 to 40 miles at a
The federal government took a series of steps, first requiring
longliners to acquire permits, then implementing a quota in 1991 for
U.S.-licensed sword boats that closed swordfishing season as soon as the
target was reached.
But the Natural Resources Defense Council still considers swordfish
“severely depleted.”
“Our goal has been to help rebuild this fishery and restore it to
health,” said Sarah Chasis, a senior attorney with the environmental
group. “That way everyone can benefit, (including) consumers, commercial
fishermen and recreational fishermen.”
© 2000 Associated Press.


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