Florida Sportsman launches Save the Mahi petition to conserve dolphins
A fish swimming off the coast of Florida is a little more popular than any of the others.
The dolphin – the fish, not the mammal, also known as mahi mahi on restaurant menus – is very colorful, runs in large schools, and can grow to over 50 pounds in size. He is a jumper, a prized fighter who spends much of his time near the surface of warm ocean currents where recreational fishermen can engage in thrilling rod and reel battles. If a fisherman is successful, this dolphin will give a meal enjoyed by many.
The dolphin is something else these days. It’s in trouble.
A grassroots effort, started by South Florida fishermen and supported by Florida Sportsman magazine, is underway to urge fisheries managers to act swiftly and with caution. This may be the last chance to protect the future of one of Florida’s favorite natural resources.
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Mahi mahi landings are on the decline
Florida Sportsman editor Blair Wickstrom of Stuart is like many of Florida’s more than 1.5 million licensed saltwater anglers. He has spent much of his life dragging the edge of the Gulf Stream in pursuit of dolphinfish.
Over the past several decades, Wickstrom along with hundreds of charter boat captains and many other fishermen have sounded the alarm bells to federal fishery managers that dolphins are becoming scarce, especially in the warm waters off Florida.
Catches in southeastern US waters have declined steadily over the past 25 years, according to landings estimates from NOAA Fisheries. Recreational landings increased from just over 3 million pounds to 1 million pounds, or over 68%, between 2015 and 2020. Commercial landings fell 71% during the same period.
More than 97% of the catch in federal waters is taken by sport fishermen, despite the fact that commercially licensed vessels have no exit limits, NOAA Fisheries reports. But the problem can be attributed to overfishing by the recreational and commercial sectors.
What is the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Board doing to help?
Yet federal fisheries managers have been slow to respond to calls to action. In fact, it’s only since 2003 that dolphins have been regulated in federal waters.
There was a lot of debate, accompanied by over 100 public comments. Respondents called for and opposed a reduction in bag limits. The council voted to reduce the daily limit for pleasure craft from an overly generous amount from 60 to 54.
Six fish. Yeah, that will save them.
What is also puzzling is that the council is voting to increase the commercial longline catch limits.
Much of the opposition to reducing the catch came from the captains of chartered boats in North Carolina. They say reducing vessel limits would hurt their charter operations, according to comments filed with the board. Meanwhile, their Florida peers are arguing for the opposite, stricter limits.
The fishery must be managed in a large area as dolphins travel far in their brief lifetimes, migrating from the Gulf of Mexico to the mid-Atlantic states. Historically, there has been a spring descent northbound and a fall descent southbound to the Florida Keys or Mexico. They never stop moving and cover great distances in a short time.
The amendment to change the regulations could come into effect next year. However, if more sensible regulations are not adopted, it could be meaningless and too late.
Florida Sportsman launches Save the Mahi petition to preserve dolphinfish
Florida Sportsman launched a petition this week urging fisheries managers to act quickly.
The Save the Mahi petition, found on the Florida Sportsman website and soon in print editions, proposes the following changes to fishing regulations in federal waters of the South Atlantic:
- Reduce the limits of pleasure boats from 54 fish per day offered to 30
- Create a maximum travel limit of 2,000 pounds for commercial fishermen.
The petition recommends keeping the daily bag limit per person at 10 and the minimum size limit at 20 inches in fork length.
I fully support this measure. I was on board ships when we kept our full allocation of 60 dolphins and it’s a fun time for sure. I can also tell you that reeling 60 dolphins is much easier and much more fun than reeling 60 dolphins.
Let’s be frank, 30 dolphins is a lot of fish too.
The real problem is that if dolphin stocks continue to decline, we won’t be able to debate whether we should be allowed to keep 54 or 30 – or more or less. If the trend continues, we may one day be told that we can’t keep any of them.
Save the Mahi petition
To read Florida Sportsman editor Blair Wickstrom’s column, visit Floridasportsman.com/editorial/save-the-mahi-cta/453237. To sign the petition, go to Floridasportsman.com/savethemahi.
Ed Killer is the outside writer for TCPalm. Sign up for his newsletter and other weekly newsletters at profile.tcpalm.com/newsletters/manage. Friend Ed on Facebook to Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or send him an e-mail at[email protected].