Lions and Tigers of the Sea
The majestic blue marlin, the legendary adversary of The Old Man and the Sea, is a magnificent, giant of a fish. In Ernest Hemingway’s celebrated saga, Santiago wondered if the great fish leapt out of the water just to show him how big he was. “He is 2 feet longer than the skiff,” the old man said with awe and admiration.
Striped marlin. © Wayne Slahor
Marlin Club of San Diego
Unfortunately, although marlin and other billfish are among the biggest and fastest fish in the sea - top predators with little to fear from other predators - they are also among the most threatened. Overfishing has reduced their numbers to only a fraction of what they were just decades ago. And by removing so many predators from the top of the ocean food chain, we are putting entire ecosystems – and the vast diversity of life they support – at risk.
Marlin, sailfish and other big ocean predators play a crucial role in the sea’s ecology. Like lions and tigers on land, they are apex predators, helping to maintain a healthy balance in marine ecosystems by promoting stability, structure and predictability.
Ironically, top predators are in ways more vulnerable than their prey in that they are generally longer-lived, reach reproductive maturity at a later age, and take longer to recover from overfishing. When predators disappear, the effects cascade down throughout the food web, disrupting entire communities of life.
Throughout the world’s oceans, billfish are caught in unsustainable numbers by industrial commercial fisheries using highly destructive fishing gear, like the longline: 40-plus miles of floating mainline fishing thousands of hooks; an underwater minefield that indiscriminately captures a wide range of target and non-target species; not only marlin and sailfish, but also sharks, marine mammals, turtles and seabirds.
Because commercial longline fisheries take a wide range of species from the top of the food chain, they reduce the total amount of predation in the ocean. And never before in history has such a broad range of big ocean fish been exploited so heavily, or have their numbers been so low.
By overfishing billfish and other top predators, we put at risk much more than the social and economic benefits we obtain from healthy and sustainable fisheries; the fresh seafood, the recreation, and the future of coastal communities that depend on fishing. We risk upsetting the delicate balance of life in the sea, damaging food webs in ways we may not be able to repair.
The objective of the Take Marlin off the Menu campaign is to educate people about what billfish are, their role in the ecosystem, and their imperiled state from commercial overfishing. Our ultimate goal is, through education and political advocacy, to end the commercial harvest, sale and importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish in the United States. After all, if you saw lion or tiger for sale in a restaurant or grocery store, would you buy it? Of course not. Well, it’s time we began thinking of billfish the same way.