Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What are you trying to achieve with the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign?
Answer: We want to protect and restore marlin populations to healthy levels by eliminating the commercial sale and importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish in the United States.
Question: Who’s leading the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign?
Answer: Two organizations – the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC).
Question: Why now?
Answer: Marlin populations are in perilous condition. Marlin and other billfish are primarily bycatch in commercial tuna and swordfish longline fisheries, and market demand for marlin encourages this bycatch to continue. But marlin populations have dropped dramatically over the last several decades and most stocks cannot sustain commercial fishing.
Question: What is a marlin?
Answer: Marlin are some of the ocean’s most magnificent fish, swimming free in the deep waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Marlin are among the top predators in the ocean – similar to lions, tigers, wolves and eagles. Marlin are distinguished by a long bill, which is an extension of the upper jaw; brilliant colors, when “lit” up; and sleek body shapes that allow them to swim at extraordinary speeds. They are highly migratory in nature and can travel great distances, such as crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Like other top predators, marlin are considered “indicator species” because their presence in healthy numbers indicates a marine ecosystem in balance.
There are several types of marlin – the blue marlin, the white marlin, the striped marlin, and the black marlin.
Question: What is a billfish?
Answer: Billfish are a family of fish that are distinguished by their bills, which are actually an extension of their upper jaw. Billfish species include marlin, spearfish and sailfish. Swordfish belong to a separate family of fish and are not encompassed in this campaign.
Question: Do you think marlin populations will become extinct?
Answer: It’s really hard to tell, but we think there could be a day in the near future when it will become a very rare occasion for fishermen to see one, and their ecological role as top predators will be jeopardized, if the current trend in commercial overfishing continues.
Question: Do these organizations have scientific evidence that marlin populations are as dire as they want us to believe?
Answer: Yes. Both organizations are well-known for their marine conservation efforts based on the best science available and both employ, retain or consult with marine biologists who are dedicated to this issue.
Question: What would you like to see chefs and consumers do?
Answer: We invite chefs and restaurant owners to permanently take marlin, sailfish and spearfish off their menus. Anyone who sells or serves seafood is encouraged to take our campaign pledge to go “marlin free.”
We encourage consumers to stop ordering marlin when dining out or to stop purchasing marlin at their favorite seafood retailer. Consider other fish species to consume instead of marlin and other billfish.
Question: Why should I, a chef or restaurant owner, care about this problem?
Answer: There are two important reasons. First, marlin populations are in danger of collapsing, endangering the health and stability of the entire ocean food web. Second, marlin contain unhealthy levels of mercury.
Question: Why should I, the average consumer, who maybe eats marlin once a year, care about this problem?
Answer: While most people don’t eat marlin on a regular basis, there are many people who will try marlin because it is considered “exotic,” or who, when given the choice between marlin and other fish or even other entrees such as chicken, pork or beef, will choose marlin.
It’s the cumulative demand of consumers that encourages restaurants to continue offering it on their menus, and seafood retailers to continue selling it. If we can make it “uncool” to eat marlin, we’ll send a signal to commercial fishermen to stop targeting marlin and other billfish.
Also, many consumers may not be aware of this, but marlin contains unhealthy levels of mercury and is not recommended for consumption. Pregnant women should definitely not eat marlin.
Question: I actually love the taste of marlin. What can I substitute for it?
Answer: When you go to a restaurant that serves fish or seafood, consider ordering another, more sustainable species such as mahi mahi, halibut, wild (not farmed) salmon, trout, some types of tuna (albacore and skipjack), and some types of snapper (gray, lane, yellowtail).
Marlin populations cannot sustain current rates of commercial overfishing. In addition, because of their highly migratory nature, marlin and other billfish species will never be sustainably “farmed,” such as catfish or tilapia.
Question: I’ve heard that it may not be safe to eat marlin? Is that true?
Answer: That’s correct. Mercury levels in marlin meat can be as much as 20 to 30 times the levels as that of other fish species.
Question: Haven’t there been past attempts similar to the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign? What’s different about this campaign?
Answer: Yes there have. Previous efforts have done a good job of raising awareness. But none of these previous efforts have brought together two of the nation’s most prominent marine conservation organizations – the IGFA and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation – to wage a concerted effort to help marlin and other billfish. The need to take marlin off the menu has never been greater.
Question: How do you know they’re really imperiled?
Answer: Numerous studies have been conducted on marlin and other billfish populations over the years, which have led to changes such as the U.S. ban on the harvest and sale of billfish caught in the Atlantic. New studies in the Pacific indicate that billfish are either overfished or their status is unknown. This research continues and both organizations, the IGFA and the NCMC, agree that marlin and other billfish populations in the Pacific and Indian oceans have also reached perilous levels.
Question: What are you doing to help other endangered fish species such as tuna?
Answer: There are a number of species of tuna (yellowfin, bluefin, etc.) that also are in serious danger because of commercial overfishing. By drawing attention to marlin, whose plight is synonymous with that of other top ocean predators such as sharks, swordfish and tuna, we hope to draw attention to the larger problem of overfishing this top tier of the food chain.
Both organizations actively support conservation efforts aimed at preventing overfishing of sharks, swordfish and tuna, which remains a significant threat to the ocean ecosystem. Unfortunately, because billfish are primarily taken as a bycatch in commercial swordfish and tuna fisheries, regulations to protect marlin and sailfish in these fisheries either do not exist or are ineffective. Removing market demand can be one of the most effective ways to get fishermen to change the way they fish to avoid killing marlin and other billfish.
Question: What about a legislative solution to the problem – ban the sale of marlin and other billfish?
Answer: Our ultimate goal is an end to the sale and importation of marlin and other billfish, and legislation is a key part of that. The first step toward this goal is educating people about the problem. That’s why the Take Marlin Off the Menu campaign is aimed at chefs, restaurant owners and consumers to educate and inform them about the problem and get them involved in the solution.
With the support of the public, Congress can and should prohibit the importation and sale of all billfish in the United States. Previously enacted regulations have been used to restrict the sale and ultimately, the consumption, of marlin and other billfish species from Atlantic waters. However, restaurants and seafood retailers can still sell marlin caught from Pacific waters. While there are protocols in place to certify marlin as from the Pacific, the reality is that because of a lack of enforcement, some restaurants and seafood retailers are also selliing marlin caught from the Atlantic. Legislation restricting sale from the Pacific as well as the Atlantic would close this black market while extending conservation to all marlin and other billfish, no matter which ocean they live in.
Question: Should I call my congressional representatives about this problem?
Answer: Yes. We encourage you to do so.
Question: What about recreational anglers? If marlin are truly endangered, shouldn’t we encourage recreational anglers to stop fishing for them?
Answer: Recreational anglers have a strong conservation ethic when it comes to billfish, released nearly all the marlin and sailfish they catch. Our organizations strongly support and actively encourage catch and live-release of billfish and the use of circle hooks to make sure released fish survive. With a total annual aggregate impact estimated between US$59 billion and $86 billion, the recreational fishing industry in the United States is responsible for very significant economic revenue, both domestically and internationally. Just as importantly, the recreational billfish community is among the strongest and most vocal public advocates for conservation.
Question: What are you doing to encourage chefs and consumers in other countries to stop eating marlin?
Answer: While this campaign is primarily focused on the U.S. - the largest importer of marlin meat - we hope to extend our work internationally to other markets where marlin is highly sought and regarded. These markets include: Sri Lanka, Japan, Singapore and France.