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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 1, 1997 - Marshall Islands Journal)---Marshalls Billfish Club statistics show that both the number and size of fish being caught around Majuro have dropped in recent years.

The billfish club operates about 10 tournaments each year, and has been keeping catch statistics for each since the mid 1980s.

MBC statistics show, for instance, that:

"There is definitely a decline in the catch rate during tournaments and when we go fishing (around Majuro and Arno)," said Baron Bigler, MBC's vice president.

The drop in the size and number of fish caught is directly attributable to the vast increase in longline and purse seine fishing vessels fishing in the area, he said.

"There is no way to attribute the lower catch rates to anything but the purse seiners and longliners," Bigler said.

An MBC publication notes that "the commercial fishing and population impact on the Majuro/Arno fishery is becoming apparent. Fishermen are finding it necessary to fish longer for fewer and smaller fish."

The weather phenomenon El Nino has a negative affect on tuna schools, but it is cyclical, whereas the two constants are commercial fishing and decline in catch rates for local sportsfishermen. Fishermen observe that when El Nino kicks in, the fish are gone, period. Fishermen don't get any bites because the higher water temperature has chased away the tuna. But in the late 1990s, the fish are still biting, they are just smaller and apparently less numerous.

Bigler pointed out that in the 1980's "any Joe blow could land a 200 to 300 pound marlin. They were so abundant, and you never saw 100 pound fish."

Today, local fishermen are much better equipped than ever before and they are skilled in fishing for marlin --yet they are catching very few over 100 pounds. The 300 pounder is a rarity, whereas five years ago, a good weekend might produce two or three of the monster fish.

In the two-day July tournament just completed, two of the 12 marlin caught had longliner fishing hooks still stuck in their mouths, a reminder of the presence of a fleet of longliners based locally.

During the past three July tournaments there was only one yellowfin tuna caught over 100 pounds (this year). In 1994, six were over 100 pounds; in 1993 the biggest was 136 pounds and there were four over 100 pounds; in 1992, there weren't any over 100 but there were dozens caught in the 60-90 pound range.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960; e-mail: ; subscriptions: 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail)

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