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Catch limits probably makes sense

At the risk of bringing down the vengeance of Mother Nature; to be honest, this winter has not been particularly difficult and there have been more fishable days than we might usually expect at this time of the year. March is now in sight and the fishing has been known to pick up as early as the first week of April. Just maybe this is going to be one of those years.

With the commercial fleet still concentrating their effort on lobsters, there is not too much to report from the offshore scene. Suffice it to say that there are some wahoo around and that trolling effort is likely to reap some reward with the size of the fish being the main question. There have been some nice fish in the over 50-pound bracket but there have also been some very much smaller specimens landed as well.

Yellowfin tuna remain present on the offshore grounds and there has been some success by those trying to chum for them. Not exactly numerous enough to encourage light tackle chummers to put in a heap of effort but there are probably enough to warrant some attention.

Trolling out in the midst of Never, Never Land can sometimes surprise and there are probably more billfish around than you might imagine. Not surprisingly, the minuscule number of lures that are dragged over the abyss at this time of the year are not the way to get their attention but if you do it often enough, it will pay off. It may be a little early for the warm water-loving blues but there should be some white marlin around.

If the Banks and Edge are still a little further than you care to venture when boat numbers are small and the weather is subject to rapid deterioration, working the reef areas can provide some decent small game action and a selection of bottom species that can provide a fish dinner or two. Amberjack and bonitas often please at this time of the year and they can be larger than you might expect when fishing in as little as 12 fathoms of water. Even wahoo have been known to turn up over the deeper reef areas, particularly when it is not too far physically removed from the actual drop-off.

Now to give you some idea of what you don't have to put up with yet to be honest, certainly local recreational fishermen have it relatively easy here in Bermuda as compared with some other places here is a quick overview of what the Americans have to face this year and probably given the way lawmakers work, much of the future.

For those of you that disagree with the observation that we have it easy here, take a gander at the facts. Unlike virtually every other jurisdiction, sport fishermen here do not require any sort of licence, permit, tag or other government authorisation to allow you to fish. Just about everywhere else, be it in freshwater, estuarine or salt water, there is some legal requirement that must be adhered to before you can even consider wetting a line. So, while there are a few prohibited species as well as some bag limits in place with seasonal closures of certain areas; for the most part, the Bermuda pelagic fishery is pretty well open to just about everyone who wishes to head offshore and fish for wahoo, tuna and billfish.

In the United States, as of 2012, there will be catch limits for just about all species including pelagic species like dolphin (mahi-mahi) and wahoo. This leads to all sorts of arguments between the users, the lawmakers and the scientists not to mention the dyed-in-the-wool conservationists; each of whom has a different axe to grind.

Commercial fishermen and many recreational anglers would rather not have limits placed on what they can catch. Their argument is that there is no sound science to bring about such action. Conversely, there may not be proven science but when most people involved in the fishery know that there simply aren't as many fish as there used to be, there is probably a need to restrict catches. Failure to do so may well result in commercial extinction.

Conservationists like to wave the extinction banner but, to be realistic, extinction of a species is a considerably more extreme situation that a reduction in abundance to the point that the cost of fishing for them exceeds their commercial value; kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is probably there but do you want it that badly?

It will be interesting to watch the situation as it develops in the US this year. Other countries, including the European Union are looking at following suit and, depending on how well things work, this may become the new status quo. Early days yet but probably well worth following.

On another note, and one likely to be of more interest to those who indulge in the champagne sport of billfishing, even if it is done on a “beer budget”, the well-known billfish conservation organisation The Billfish Foundation (TBF) has recently announced TROD, its new tag and release online database. The name is an acronym for Tag and Release Online Database. This is intended to be a fast, free, easy and accurate way to enter tagging and release data.

TBF has been keeping records for over 20 years and covers three oceans with sport fishermen in the Western Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean being the most likely to avail themselves of this new system. It is the organisation's expectation that this internet-based system will become a virtual logbook for anglers and captains fishing for billfish and employing tag and release tactics. It is free to members and non-members.

TBF uses the information that is collected to provide data for marine scientists to place into the puzzle that is presented by the mysterious lives of these large pelagic species. Some of this data is also of use to some countries, particularly developing ones that are studying the socio-economic importance of billfishing as a recreational industry.

Registration is easy and free at http://www.billfishtag.org. Instructions on how to enter data is provided as well as troubleshooting tips. The sign up process is relatively painless and quick with the only drawback being the fact that historical data is still in the process of being input. Thus if you released a billfish with a TBF tag two years ago you probably won't find a record of it. That will improve as the site continues to grow and, given the number of TBF tags deployed each season, come October or November of this year, there will probably be hundreds of records available on line.

Anglers wanting to learn more about TBF's many benefits and to join or renew their TBF memberships can do so at TBF's internet website at www.billfish.org. After all, playing with the computer and surfing the more fishy bits of the World Wide Web is a nice winter alternative to actually having to cope with Tight lines!!!

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Published February 18, 2012 at 6:00 am (Updated February 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm)

Catch limits probably makes sense

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