Why Catch-and-Release

The Bahamas is a wonderful place to fish. The abundant game species, clear waters, and warm weather makes it ideal place for sport fishing. Because it is a rare and valuable tourism resource, the Government of the Bahamas encourages sustainable fishing practices. They require catch-and-release for billfish (including Swordfish, sailfish, and Marlin). They also encourage catch-and-release for Bonefish and use fishing rules to conserve the fish resources. Worldwide giant billfish have been depleted; the commercial and sports fishing mortality rate is not sustainable. Commercial fishing causes most of the losses; the global decline is a compelling reason for catch-and-release policies in the Bahamas, as well as the rest of the world. Large game fish require special protection because of the time it takes them to reach these great sizes.

Protecting Valuable Fishing Resource
The Bahamas offers unique species and an amazing range of fishing environments. One can fish and encounter several rare species in a single excursion. The catch-and-release policies (and customs) play an important role in sustaining this vital industry. The Bahamas offers blue water fishing of medium to extreme depths. Fishing rules limit catch amounts for all species per boat per day. Effective conservation protects the food chain. In the Bahamas, anglers must release all Billfish unless part of an approved event, such as a licensed tournament.

It’s a remarkable event to fish for Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon in the same area. In the Bahamas, one can do it on the same day. Bonefishing in the flats is a very popular fishing activity. The shallow clear waters permit sight fishing with fly rods and light tackle. The long-enduring tradition among Bonefishing enthusiasts is to release the fish after a spirited fight.

A gradual decline in large billfish since the mid-1950’s increased sharply in the late 1980’s. Both the size and quantity of Blue Marlin, Sailfish and Swordfish declined according to fishing experts and enthusiasts. The U.S. Government and the Bahamas initiated efforts to promote stronger and larger populations, which included broader use of catch-and-release. The U.S. banned commercial fishing for Marlin, but the situation of these giant fish is also dependent on the stocks on which they feed. Blue Marlin, for example, have been found with large tuna in their bellies. They feed on a wide range of prey, and the supply of their food stocks affects them directly.

Statistics Show Sharp Decline
Massive studies by the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) have defined the scale of species’ loss for Billfish and Tuna. Their estimates range from about sixty to sixty-four percent loss of species for Blue Marlin in the Atlantic. Other species have lost as much as 85 percent. The study ranges covered periods of 14 and 18 years respectively; from 1990 through 2006, and from an earlier period of 1956-1989. From this and other studies, the primary source of loss was commercial fishing, with a lesser contribution from sports anglers. The data presents a lengthy period of decline covering more than fifty years, and a trend towards extinction. There is no current global study that shows a rise in fish populations, but evidence does continue to mount. The impact of Bahamas Catch and Release policies has been demonstrated as favorable to resource management in that actively controlled zone. Amid a worldwide, steep decline in these species, recent tournaments in the Bahamas have yielded record catches for volume and exceptional specimens of several species.

Conservation Policies Have Improved Billfish Populations

BSFN Expert Chris Rees catches a big marlin, which he subsequently released.
BSFN Expert Chris Rees catches a big marlin, which he subsequently released.

The Sustainable Fisheries Act, the 2012 Billfish Conservation law, and government fishery conservation policies have helped restore greater balance for billfish, tuna and shark populations. These species migrate and the proximity to the Bahamas has clearly been felt in greater fish survival rates in the Atlantic. Many species remain vulnerable and commercial fishing continues to drive the decline of species and numbers in the Pacific. Long lines, purse seines, and gill nets continue to take inadvertent collateral catches, and commercial exploitation of Marlin has a large Asian market. U.S. and Bahamian efforts have another dimension—they protect spawning grounds in their territories too.

Modern technology offers new ways to preserve the fun and excitement of a deep-sea fishing challenge. Anglers can still catch trophy specimens of many species like Blue Marlin, Spearfish and Swordfish in well-managed areas (like the Bahamas). No longer dependent on keeping and mounting a trophy, we can use photographs and video that captures the sun and excitement of a skillful baiting, fight, and landing.

Commercial fishing techniques are too indiscriminate, killing many thousands of billfish in the pursuit of more commercial fish like tuna. in the past, Sports fishing contributed to unsustainable rates of harvest; however, most anglers now release their large catch, and many survive to breed. The policy of the Bahamas government is to encourage catch-and-release, and anglers who follow those guidelines can feel good that they’re contributing the survival and well-being of these beautiful creatures.

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