16 | Mar/Apr 2017
The doâ€™s and donâ€™ts of Pelagic Fishing
C O N S E RVAT I O N C O R N E R
cONSERVATION CORNER BY CEI
The island nation of The Bahamas is well known for its wealth of marine life, which attracts people from across the world to see, dive with or fish these amazing species. These land masses rising from the sea floor force nutrient rich water, carried by deep Atlantic Ocean currents, to the surface which feeds a diverse food web of marine organisms. At shallow depths, where sunlight can penetrate, microscopic organisms use this light and nutrients in a process known as photosynthesis to grow and subsequently kick start this open ocean food chain. This area, known as the epipelagic zone, is arguably
the most productive section of the water column and attracts fish from across the Atlantic. Large predatory fish such as tuna, marlin and mahi mahi follow the schools of small baitfish that congregate in the warm deep waters off the coast of the small Caribbean islands. These migratory species have few natural predators, mainly only sharks and humans, which are both known to gather in large numbers in The Bahamas. Predatory fish have evolved to be streamlined and powerful enough to hunt nimble schooling fish, which makes for a thrilling fishing experience. The opportunity to catch these huge, fast fish attracts thousands of sport fishers from across
the world and brings great revenue to the Family Islands. Although well known for its abundance of bonefish, the waters surrounding Eleuthera are also rich in large pelagic fish, such as mahi, Barracuda and Wahoo. These migratory fish are joined by other predators, like Sailfish and Billfish, named so for their large sail like dorsal fins and/or long, sharp snouts. More specifically, the swordfish and marlin attract thrill seeking fishers who pay great sums of money to catch these fish, known to be the largest and most powerful in The Bahamas. There are several restrictions placed on non-Bahamian fishing boats to control the amount of fish that can be harvested and prevent possible disruption of the ecology and economy of the local area. Any foreign fishing vessel must be in possession of a sport fishing permit to legally catch large game fish. Therefore, any visitor wishing to catch these species must acquire a permit from The Department of Marine Resources or join a guide who has such documentation. The visitors must only use the traditional fishing method of hook and line and can use only 6 rods to fish at one time. Among these fishing restrictions, the Fisheries Resource Regulations also set possession limits to control the number of fish that can be harvested during each fishing trip. A visiting fishing vessel can land a maximum of 18 large migratory fish, such as kingfish, tuna and mahi. The more
A Mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus), also known as dolphinfish, caught as part of a past CEI project studying marine debris in pelagic food webs.
powerful billfish are catch and release only and should not be landed, unless under exemplary competition conditions where a tournament permit must have been acquired. This catch and release mentality has been a long term practice of the Bahamian people but has recently become a requirement in the sport fishing industry. It is hoped that the quick release of these fish will reduce the mortality rate associated with sport fishing and offset the great stock decline of the late 20th century. This rule is becoming easier to comply with as the availability of technology increases. The ability to catch a large fish, take photos to show its scale and then return it to the water ensures that the sport fishing industry can continue to provide revenue to the islands with minimum ecological damage.