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Saving Sails

The extensive coverage in the news and social media over the past few weeks involving Cecil the Lion, killed by a recreational hunter in Zimbabwe on the 1st July 2015, really got me thinking about whether sport fishing—with its reputation for being a bit of a trophy hunt itself—can ever be compatible with conservation.

It's a concept that I first had to wrap my mind around in January 2011 when I was writing an article about a conservation initiative involving sport fishing in the Maldives for Action Asia Magazine.

A marine biologist working at one of the top resorts in the Maldives had been watching with concern the way local boat crews hauled in billfish for guests to take interminable trophy shots onboard, before dumping them over the side of the boat where they often turned belly up as they floated away or sank beneath the waves.

Resorts in the Maldives claimed to practice catch and release but the local crews often had no knowledge of proper revival techniques, resulting in high mortality rates of precious pelagic fish.

A decision was therefore made to introduce formal training and the resort’s marine biologist approached Captain Mike Tan of Bluesails Sportfishing Charters to design a programme that would provide the local crews with the necessary knowledge and techniques to implement sensitive and sustainable sport fishing in the Maldives. The initiative spread to several other resorts in the Maldives and eventually involved dozens of local crews and captains.

To read about the training initiative and see more photos, please visit!home-maldives/c2282.

Photo above: A local fishing crew revive a wahoo before a healthy release during training in the Maldives, 2011

Captain Mike acknowledges that sport fishing and conservation can be seen as contradictory but notes that with proper tagging, release and documentation, the information gathered can actually help scientists preserve billfish species.

It’s an unusual and interesting paradox.

A quick internet search before writing this blog (keywords: "sport fishing"" and “conservation") revealed that the people most passionate about protecting and preserving billfish are usually anglers.

(My search also generated a link for an an organisation dedicated to conserving the sport of big-game fishing in California– yes, the right to fish is actually under threat in certain parts of the world!)

But getting back to sport fishing being compatible with conservation, I discovered that aside from the Billfish Foundation (founded in 1986 to advance the conservation of billfish & associated species), there are foundations and initiatives across the Caribbean, Venezuela and East Africa (see links below) to name but a few, all dedicated to promoting conservation and research for the protection of billfish and their marine environment.

And really, it only makes sense that the people most dependent on billfish species to earn a living would have the most interest in ensuring their survival. The paradox is summed up nicely in a quote by the late Charlie Harris who was a founding member of the African Billfish Foundation:

"The sport fishing industry depends on the survival of billfish, and the survival of billfish rests in the hands of sport anglers."

Captain Mike also points out that sport fishing can turn around the senseless killing of billfish species by local fisherman in places like the Maldives and South East Asia who come to realise that the fish are worth much more alive than chopped up in a quayside market.

Captain Mike adds that many people who would otherwise not care about billfish, often get passionate about their preservation after a personal encounter on a game fishing boat.

I can attest to this.

It was only when I was eye-ball to eye-ball with a writhing pelagic that had just tested my strength and endurance to the limit that I truly appreciated the magnificence and beauty of billfish. I even named my billfish before releasing him safely back into the water, and I swear there was a tear in my eye as Harold glided down into the depths with just one swing of his powerful tail.

You can read more about Captain Mike's billfish conservation tips and techniques in Captain's Blog # 4

Other links:

-Bahamas Sportfishing Conservation Association:

-Article in Marlin Magazine about the Caribbean Billfish Project:

-The Sportfishing Conservancy in California

-The African Billfish Foundation

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Bluesails Sportfishing operates fishing charters at Kuala Rompin and Pulau Tioman, Malaysia and other global Billfish destinations

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