Billfish catch data is collected as part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey (MRFSS), however, since the number of anglers that target billfish is relatively low compared to the total number of marine anglers, the survey collects very little information on billfish catch. The primary source for Pacific coast angler catch data for billfish is the "Pacific-Indian Ocean Billfish Angler Survey" administered by NMFS. The survey is based upon voluntary reports from anglers, never-the-less it provides a reasonable indication of billfish catch and effort. The survey is designed differently from the MRFSS and it would be inappropriate to combine the data.
A summary of the history and biology of the Pacific coast billfish fishery is provided in "California's Living Marine Resources and Their Utilization" (Leet, et.al., 1992) and Squire's (1987) publication entitled "Pacific Billfish Angler Catch Rates for Key Stock Assessments." Additional details on billfish biology and management are well documented in two publications edited by Stroud (1989, 1990).
The "Billfish Angler Survey" was initiated in 1969, and results are published by the NMFS, Southwest Fisheries Science Center (La Jolla, California) annually, in the "Billfish Newsletter." Recent editions of the newsletter are posted on NMFS web site Billfish Newsletter Page. The data is collected directly from annual angler survey response cards that are mailed by anglers to the NMFS and is supplemented with information provided by the "Cooperative Marine Game Fish Tagging Program". Although the survey encompasses the entire Pacific and Indian Ocean, only the data for southern California is presented here.
Table A summarizes the angler billfish catch for southern California since 1969. The catch is comprised primarily of striped marlin. Species of billfish other than striped marlin are a minimal component of angler catch in southern California waters, and except for swordfish are not common. Blue marlin, black marlin, and sailfish seem to be caught more often during periods of abnormally high water temperatures, common during El Niño conditions. The highest catches for these three species reported by the "Billfish Angler Survey," since 1969, respectively, is 27, 17, and 40 fish. Spearfish, are the least commonly caught billfish in California waters.
Swordfish are common in California waters and in the commercial fishery, however, angler catch is not likely to exceed 10 to 20 fish per year. The low annual angler catch for swordfish is attributed to their apparent aversion to lures and bait using common angling practices. Common billfish angling practice in California apparently involves little night fishing, which is when swordfish are most actively feeding.
The most important point that can be made from review of the California billfish angler catch data (Table A) is that catch rate has remained relatively constant since 1969, at about 0.1 fish per angler day (one fish for every 10 days of fishing). The relatively constant catch rate might be unexpected considering a trend to use lighter lines in recent years. The highest catch rate for the survey was recorded in 1985, at 0.31 fish per day and a low of about 0.02 was recorded for 1973. Fishing pressure has remained fairly constant since the survey began, ranging from about 2,000 to 4,000 angler days per year. However, since 1993, reported fishing pressure has been declining and has been at its lowest since the survey began. The years having the highest number of angler days are often associated with years having high catch rates. The total number of fish caught (Table A) as reported by the survey ranged from 46 (1973) to 993 (1985), however, it is important to recognize that at least 30 percent of these are released, a trend that seems to be increasing in popularity.
Based upon comparisons of the "Billfish Angler Survey" data with information collected from big game angling clubs in southern California, a course estimate was made that the "Billfish Angler Survey" accounted for about 33 percent of the billfish catch in 1987 (Squire, 1987). Therefore, actual catch may be more closely estimated by multiplying the number of fish reported in Table A by a factor of 3.3, at least for 1987. The relationship of reports made to the "Billfish Angler Survey" versus actual catch varies from year to year and depends on angler response.
An additional, adjustment to estimates of "Angler Billfish Survey" catch in California could be made by adding California Department of Fish and Game Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) catch (Table B). Rationale for this adjustment may be appropriate if it is assumed that few of these fish are reported in the "Billfish Angler Survey," which is generally focused on a different user group. Since 1969, CPFV billfish catch (reported as striped marlin) has averaged 59 fish per year, with a peak of 287 fish reported in 1984. Years of high CPFV catch reports do not appear to be closely correlated with reported "Billfish Angler Survey" catch-per-unit-effort data.
The cost of an average billfish angler trip in California for 1982 was estimated to be about $395 (Herrick, 1984). Herrick=s research also indicated that each trip included an average of three anglers. An aggregate trip cost for the year may be derived by dividing the number of 1982 angling days (Table A) by three (# of anglers on each trip), multiplying this by $395 (cost per trip), and then multiplying by a conversion factor of 3.3 to account for individuals that did not respond to the survey. The resulting calculation indicates that the aggregate 1982 cost for billfish trips in California may have been about $1.2 million.
Recent declines in angler fishing pressure have reduced the estimated aggregate cost for billfish trips in California to about $488,000 in 2005, however, this is still a significant component of the recreational fishing industry in southern California. The 2005 aggregate cost was computed in the same manner as it was for 1982 (above) based on the 1982 trip cost of $395, which is equivalent to approximately $799 at 2005 price levels. Deriving the 2005 aggregate cost estimate required several additional assumptions, including an assumption that individual trips were of the same length as in 1982, quality and amount of equipment remained the same, and that the prices of various components of a trip rose at the same rate as the general rate of inflation.
Recent editions of the Billfish Newsletter posted on NMFS web site provide additional information.
Herrick, S.F., Jr. 1984. Socio-economic profile of the southern California billfish anglers. National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Administrative Report No. LJ-84-12, La Jolla, CA. 39 pp.
Leet, W., C. Dewees, and C. Haugen. eds. 1992. California's Living Marine Resources and their Utilization. California Sea Grant Extension Publication UCSGEP-92-12. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Region under Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant No. NA-90-AA-H-SK-124. Davis, California. 257 pp.
Stroud, R.H. (ed.). 1989. Planning the future of billfishes - research and management in the 90s and beyond, Part 1, Fishery and stock synopses, data needs and management. Marine Recreational Fisheries 13 - Proceedings of the Second International Billfish Symposium, Kailua-Kona, HI, August 1-5, 1988. National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Inc. Savannah, Georgia. 361 pp.
Stroud, R.H. (ed.). 1990. Planning the future of billfishes - research and management in the 90s and beyond, Part 2, Contributed papers. Marine Recreational Fisheries 13 - Proceedings of the Second International Billfish Symposium, Kailua-Kona, HI, August 1-5, 1988. National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Inc. Savannah, Georgia. 321 pp.
Squire, J.L. 1977. Pacific billfish angler catch rates for key area stock assessments. NOAA/NMFS Marine Fishery Review. 49(2):15-25.
File revised by Marty
Golden, NMFS, Office of Intergovernmental and Recreational Fisheries
- May 2007.