Campaign at a Glance
The Gulf of Mexico provides important habitat for rare and beautiful marine species including Atlantic bluefin tuna, blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, and sharks. But even before the oil disaster, Gulf species faced a significant threat from surface longline fishing gear.
A decades-old problem
Surface longlines have been used commercially in the Gulf since the 1960s. This gear consists of hundreds of baited hooks suspended from lines that stretch an average of 30 miles. Fishermen use this method to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish, but the indiscriminate and wasteful gear also catches and kills more than 80 types of non-target animals. These include endangered sea turtles, hard-fighting game fish such as blue and white marlin and severely depleted western Atlantic bluefin tuna. Bluefin in particular face a real challenge because the Gulf of Mexico is the only known spawning area for this remarkable fish. Although regulations have provided partial relief for some ocean wildlife, surface longlines in the Gulf continue to incidentally catch and kill significant numbers of undersized, unwanted, and protected species.
An additional threat
In 2010, the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history exacerbated the negative environmental impacts of surface longlines. The spill happened in the western Atlantic bluefin tuna’s only known breeding ground and lasted through the peak of its spawning season. It also coincided with the spawning seasons for blue and white marlin and sailfish and degraded the habitat for several shark species including the scalloped hammerhead. Scientists will study the impacts for years to come, but it’s clear that minimizing controllable threats to these animals will strengthen their chance for survival.
Simply modifying surface longlines won’t fix this long-standing problem. But switching to alternative gears which allow commercial fishermen to stay on the water and keep fishing, could be the answer.