Billfish are a commercially and recreationally important species that present a suite of unique research and management challenges. Their highly migratory nature causes most stocks, if not all, to cross multiple national boundaries, necessitating management at the international level at regional fisheries management organizations.
Yet, as important as billfish are, they unfortunately often take a metaphorical research and management back seat to other, usually more commercially valuable, highly migratory species. As such, the International Billfish Symposium series has gained significant importance as a forum dedicated to discussing aspects of billfish fisheries, biology and management.
One of the ways they have accomplished this over the years is through organizing and hosting scientific symposia to provide a critical forum where the latest in game fish research and management can be exchanged.
The fourth International Billfish Symposium took place in 2005 in Catalina Island, California, with the fifth IBS (pictured) taking place eight years later in 2013 in Taiwan.
In the mid-1970s, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), along with several other prominent fishery organizations, started the Marine Recreational Fisheries Symposia series focusing on the importance of marine recreational fishing in the United States.
The IBS series has a long, although somewhat discontinuous, history. The first IBS was held in Hawaii in 1972 in conjunction with the 14th annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT).
This arrangement allowed both the angling and scientific communities the opportunity to discuss national and international research efforts, and numerous measures to conserve sailfish, marlin, spearfish and swordfish.
The symposium returned to Hawaii 16 years later in 1988, after which it remained dormant for another 13 years until the third IBS was convened in Cairns, Australia, in 2001. The fourth IBS took place in 2005 in Catalina Island, California, with the fifth IBS taking place eight years later in 2013 in Taiwan.
Each symposium had been successful in building on the results presented and questions asked at previous ones. They have also served as an effective mechanism for publishing billfish research, as conference proceedings have been published either in the form of technical reports or in peer-reviewed journals. The International Billfish Symposium series is also somewhat unique in that recreational and commercial anglers are encouraged to not only attend but also present at special sessions.
On Sept. 14-17, 2016, the International Game Fish Association had the honor of hosting the sixth IBS at IGFA headquarters in Dania Beach, Florida, where over 60 scientists, fisheries managers and anglers from institutions throughout the Unites States, Africa, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand gathered to discuss current research and management perspectives relating to billfish.
Research topics included management assessment, movement and habitat utilization, biology, species identification, life history, distribution, and recreational and commercial fisheries.
For the more we understand about these important game fish, the better equipped we are to manage and protect them.
(Donnell A. Tate is the IGFA representative for Maui County).