The Coastal Resources Division (CRD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources this week announced an amendment to saltwater fishing regulations to allow for the landing of billfish in Georgia for the first time in 20 years.
The three billfish species impacted by the amendment are Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans), White Marlin (Tetrapturus albidus), and Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans), as approved by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources Jan. 28, 2022, and effective March 1, 2022. These billfishes are bluewater species found predominantly in open ocean habitats east of the Gulf Stream.
Billfishes are fast-growing, mature at young ages, and have life spans that range between 8 and 30 years. Billfishes have been identified as overfished since the late 1980s and overfishing continues to occur for both marlin species.
Since 1988, directed-fishing effort for billfishes has been reserved for the recreational sector. Federal regulations, implemented in 2006, are highly restrictive for these species and include permitting, reporting requirements, gear requirements, and minimum sizes (Blue Marlin: 99 inches; White Marlin 66 inches; Sailfish 63 inches, all measured as lower-jaw fork length). The annual landings for Blue and White Marlin combined are limited to 250 fish across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Federal regulations for recreational vessels with a federal permit require the vessel to abide by federal regulations regardless of where they are fishing unless a state has more restrictive regulations. Because Georgia has not allowed for the taking or possession of billfishes in State waters since 2001, federally permitted participants are not able to land their catch in Georgia prior to this amendment.
Over the past 20 years, numerous members of the recreational fishing public have requested the opportunity to land these fish in Georgia, especially during offshore tournaments. These species are tightly regulated, and their harvest is accounted for by federal regulation.