Opinion by NCMC President Ken Hinman


Many Americans of a certain age were introduced to the blue marlin by Ernest Hemingway. His 1952 novella, The Old Man and the Sea, chronicles an epic battle between Santiago and a monster fish longer than the Cuban fisherman’s boat.

Hemingway hunted marlin himself out of Havana, with men who are as legendary in the angling world as he is in the literary one. One frequent companion, Michael Lerner, founded the International Game Fish Association in 1939.  The IGFA lists the all-tackle record for blue marlin at just over 1,400 lbs. It’s a fish unparalleled in terms of size and beauty, hard to find and even harder to catch.

The U.S. Congress is now considering legislation to protect blue marlin and its brother billfish - black, white and striped marlin, sailfish and spearfish – by removing them from the commercial market everywhere in the United States.

Throughout history, animals once offered for sale are no longer. Societies determine that certain species should be protected from the demands of commerce. The reasons may be social, economic, ecological or all three. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a natural progression that takes many decades, even centuries. Today, we’ve reached that point in history with billfish.

Friends of the Fish

Billfish are sport fishing icons, but more. Angler/author Edward Hewitt long ago described the evolution of the master angler in three stages. First, to catch as many fish as possible, then to catch the biggest fish, then the most difficult. We’ve since added a fourth stage - to not “catch” the fish at all, but release it alive.

For marlin, you might say it started with Jack Cleveland.  In 1958, fishing off Cape Hatteras, the late National Coalition for Marine Conservation board member caught a blue marlin he guessed weighed somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds. When he shocked everyone by letting it go, it was the talk of the docks up and down the coast, the first known voluntary release of a big blue. For Jack, it was just the latest on his catch-and-release life list, joining recent additions white marlin and sailfish.

Fifty years later, it’s the angler who brings a billfish to the dock that raises eyebrows and starts people talking.  The recreational fishery in the U.S. is nearly all live-release.  Sport landings total about 1% of commercial landings and imports. But whereas billfish barely show up on the commercial ledgers, the recreational fishery is worth billions to the economy. That, from a fishery that leaves a negligible saltwater footprint.

But the real value of a thriving catch-and-release fishery is not measured in dollars. Its greatest contribution may be to the fish themselves. With so many anglers devoted to billfish and their future together, there is a standing army ready to protect them from overfishing, preserve their habitat and maintain a healthy supply of prey. In other words, to make sure there will always be plenty of billfish in the sea.

Ken Hinman, President
National Coalition for Marine Conservation


National Coalition for Marine ConservationInternational Game Fish Association