It’s rare that the issues of longline fishing and bycatch make it to the evening news, but this report from CNN highlights a promising technology called buoy gear fishing that could replace the extremely destructive practice of longline fishing for swordfish. As you might guess, traditional longlines are long–miles-long, and sometimes set with thousands of baited hooks that catch everything from swordfish (both adult and juveniles) to endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, sawfish and sharks. Swordfishing in the Florida Straits, a major nursery area for baby fish, became very popular in the late 1960s. However, by the 1990s, swordfish populations had collapsed, with longlining banned in the area by 2011.
This video tracks Florida fisherman Tim Palmer’s switch from longlines to buoy gear. Instead of thousands of hooks, Palmer sets only 12 at a time, which can be actively monitored for juvenile fish or protected species that might take the bait instead of the intended adult swordfish. If and when fishermen notice that this has happened, they can respond more quickly and minimize the potential injury of the hooked animal.
Despite recent successes with this new gear, the movement away from destructive longline fishing is not universal or even well-accepted by all fishermen. In the Pacific, federal regulators recently approved new rules, set to take effect November 5, that will allow longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna to incidentally catch almost twice the number of endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads that they entangle each year.
Oceana is fighting to prevent these new rules from going into effect and is pushing for responsible fishing practices that reduce bycatch around the world.