- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

GLOUCESTER POINT, Va. (AP) John Graves, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, recently noticed the menu at a Norfolk restaurant included the special entree "Atlantic blue marlin."
He called the manager to his table and said he doubted the fish was indeed a marlin because, if it was, the restaurant would be committing a crime.
Mr. Graves should know. He has become a central player in protecting the billfish in a world of international pressures and politics. He is a scientist and leading researcher, and serves as chief adviser to the American delegation of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
The commission meets once a year to debate trends and set policies for managing 30 deep-water species, including swordfish, sailfish, wahoo, big-eyed and bluefin tunas and, of course, blue and white marlin.
At this year's commission meeting, a marlin-release requirement was renewed to help countries limit blue marlin catches by 50 percent and white marlin catches by 67 percent. The mandate will remain in effect until at least 2005.
Conservationists and scientists are especially concerned about the fate of the world's 200,000 white marlin. Found only in the Atlantic, they usually weigh about 70 pounds and can grow 9 feet long but are the smallest of the marlin family.
Though the population number is higher than originally thought, the marine science institute a branch of the College of William & Mary reported that white marlin could become extinct soon under existing fishing regulations. An environmental group petitioned the federal government this year to protect the white marlin under the Endangered Species Act, but the National Marine Fisheries Services rejected the request.
About 4 percent of white marlin losses occur in America, scientists say. Most are killed by long-line fishing fleets from nations such as Brazil, Cuba, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Putting the marlin off-limits to American fishermen would do little for the species and damage a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
It is illegal to sell Atlantic sailfish and blue and white marlin in America, although it sometimes happens.
Mr. Graves and a postgraduate student, Jan McDowell, have developed a DNA-fingerprinting method to tell whether a market fillet is from a sailfish, white marlin, blue marlin or a different species that can be caught and sold legally.
The scientists sample many questionable specimens. Last year, the student analyzed a fish marketed in Virginia as "striped marlin from Ecuador," which would have been legal. But the fillets came from an Atlantic sailfish, a barred species.
Mr. Graves said his next goal is to reform billfish tournaments so fewer white marlins are killed by mistake. He said the key is to get fishermen to use more gentle gear.
Mr. Graves used $4,000 worth of satellite-tracking tags to determine that a blue marlin will survive a hooking if released. He learned white marlins have a harder time and that they often swim hundreds of miles away after the tagging, as if to escape.
One blue marlin traveled 1,200 miles in five days.
"You begin to understand that these are not dumb animals," he said. "What's the first thing you'd do after going through such an ordeal? Run."

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