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Faces of FADs: Sailfish

by Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna
September 16, 2014

Faces of FADs: Sailfish

Our Faces of FADs series profiles marine species often injured or killed by fish aggregating devices (FADs) commonly used by fishermen in order to gain access to the U.S. market and the so-called "dolphin safe" label.

This series continues with sailfish, so named for their gorgeous dorsal fins, which extend along the whole length of their bodies and are often much taller than their bodies are thick.

Sailfish are popular among sport fisherman. As fast and agile swimmers, they are challenging catch. Their majestic dorsal fins also make them a great prize. However, there is a risk that without protection these beautiful fish could be threatened. Sailfish conservation efforts focus on tagging programs to help scientists monitor stocks. These efforts aim to improve the health of our oceans and local economies by ensuring that sailfish and other related species don't become endangered. Unfortunately, these glorious fish are at risk from unsustainable tuna fisheries operations like FAD fishing and longline fishing.

Victim VI: Sailfish

Type: Fish

Diet: Carnivore

Life span in the wild: 4 years

Size: Up to 11 ft

Weight: Up to 220 lb

Conservation Status: The National Marine Fisheries Service manages the catch of sailfish to ensure the long-term sustainability of fishery stocks. All U.S. flagged commercial vessels are prohibited from selling, retaining, or purchasing Atlantic billfish including sailfish. Recreational fishers must obtain a permit from NOAA fisheries for fishing in federal waters and state regulations may also apply.

Interesting Fact: Sailfish are the fastest fish in the ocean. They have been recorded leaping out of the water at more than 68 miles per hour.

Profile: In the Atlantic, sailfish has little value as a commercial fishery, with the meat being relatively tough and rarely sold unless smoked. However, the sailfish is highly sought after by recreational fishermen. Sailfish fishing for sport is particularly popular in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Atlantic sailfish are usually hooked by trolling, with small whole fish as bait.

Threat from FADs: FADs are designed to aggregate sealife and attract commercially valuable tuna. Sailfish, which like to feed on tuna, are often led them to FADs in pursuit of their prey. When the tuna is harvested, sailfish become bycatch, often discarded overboard for their lack of relative market value.

According to a 2007 study commissioned by the International Game Fish Association, bycatch is one of the biggest problems faced by sailfish and related species. However a dearth of information means that tagging programs are vitally important to the continued health of sailfish species.