Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

Blue marlin - Atlantic
Marine Resource  Fact Sheet
Stock status report 2011
Blue marlin - Atlantic
Fact Sheet Citation  
Atlantic blue marlin
Owned byInternational Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) – More
Related observationsLocate in inventorydisplay tree map
FAO Names: en - Blue marlin, fr - Makaire bleu, es - Aguja azul, ar - مقير أزرق أطلسيّ ، مكيرأزرق أطلسيّ, zh - 蓝枪鱼, ru - Марлин синий
Given Name:  Blue marlin
Geographic extent of Blue marlin - Atlantic
Main Descriptors
Considered a single stock: Yes        Spatial Scale: Regional
Management unit: Yes        Reference year: 2009
Biological State and Trend
State & Trend Descriptors
Exploitation rateF2009/FMSY = 1.63 range (1.11 – 2.16)High fishing mortalityRed
Abundance levelF2009/FMSY = 0.67 range (0.53 – 0.81)Depleted

The most recent assessment for blue marlin was conducted in 2011 through a process that included a data preparatory meeting in April 2010 and an assessment meeting in April. The last year of fishery data used in the assessment was 2009.

Habitat and Biology
Climatic zone: Temperate.   Horizontal distribution: Oceanic.   Vertical distribution: Pelagic.  

The central and northern Caribbean Sea and northern Bahamas have historically been known as the primary spawning area for blue marlin in the western North Atlantic. Recent reports show that blue marlin spawning can also occur north of the Bahamas in an offshore area near Bermuda at about 32º-34º North. Ovaries of female blue marlin caught by artisanal vessel in Côte d’Ivoire show evidence of pre-spawning and post-spawning, but not of spawning. In this area females are more abundant than males (4:1 female/male ratio). Coastal areas off West Africa have strong seasonal upwelling, and may be feeding areas for blue marlin.

Previous reports have mentioned spawning of blue and white marlin off southeast Brazil (25º to 26ºS and 45º to 45ºW). In this area blue marlin spawn from April to June and white marlin spawn from December to March. In the northwest Atlantic white marlin have been reported spawning in the Gulf of Mexico in June.

Atlantic blue marlin inhabit the upper parts of the open ocean. Although they spend much of the time on the upper mixed layer they dive regularly to maximum depths of around 300 m, with some vertical excursions down to 800m. They do not confine themselves to a narrow range of temperatures but most tend to be found in waters warmer than 17°C. The distributions of times at depth are significantly different between day and night. At night, the fish spent most of their time at or very close to the surface. During daylight hours, they are typically below the surface, often at 40 to 100+ m. These patterns, however, can be highly variable between individuals and also vary depending on the temperature and dissolved oxygen of the surface mixed layer. This variability in the use of habitat by marlins indicates that simplistic assumptions about habitat usage made during the standardization of CPUE data may be inappropriate.

Geographical Distribution
Jurisdictional distribution: Highly migratory

Blue marlin are distributed widely in the Atlantic Ocean, in coastal and offshore areas, mostly ranging from 45ºN to 35ºS.
Water Area Overview
Spatial Scale: Regional

Geo References
Resource Structure
Considered a single stock: Yes

For management purposes the SCRS adopted a total Atlantic stock based on previous assessment conclusions and genetic data. However, available information is not conclusive and further research are needed.

Description of fisheries


The decadal geographic distribution of the catches is given in Figure 1. The Committee used Task I catches as the basis for the estimation of total removals (Figure 2). Total removals for the period 1990-2009 were obtained during the 2011 Blue Marlin Stock Assessment Session and the White Marlin Data Preparatory Meeting by modifying Task I values with the addition of blue marlin and white marlin that the Committee estimated from catches reported as billfish unclassified. Additionally the reporting gaps were filled with estimated values for some fleets. During the 2011 blue marlin assessment it was noted that catches continued to decline through 2009, while catches of white marlin seemed to be stabilizing. Over the last 20 years, Antillean artisanal fleets have increased the use of Moored Fish Aggregating Devices (MFADs) to capture pelagic fish. Catches of blue marlin caught around MFADs are known to be significant and increasing in some areas, however reports to ICCAT on these catches are incomplete. Even though catches from the Antillean artisanal fleets were included in the stock assessment, additional documentation of past and present Task I catches from these fisheries is required. Recent reports from purse seine fleets in West Africa suggest that blue marlin are more commonly caught with tuna schools associated with FADs than with free tuna schools. Task I catches of blue marlin (Table 1.) in 2010 were 3,160 t, compared to 3,240 t reported for 2009. Due to the work conducted by the Committee and improved reporting by CPCs the amount of unclassified billfish in the Task I table has been minimized.

Figure 1. Geographic distribution of mean blue marlin catch by major gears and decade. The symbols for the 1950s information (top left) are scaled to the maximum catch observed during the 1950s, whereas the remaining plots are scaled to the maximum catch observed from 1960 to 2009.
Figure 2. Total catch of blue marlin and white marlin reported in Task I.

Fishery indices

A number of relative abundance indices were estimated during the blue marlin 2011 assessment. However, given the apparent shift in landings from industrial to non-industrial fleets in recent times, it is imperative that CPUE indices are developed for all fleets that have substantial landings.

During the 2011 assessment, an estimated standardized combined CPUE index for blue marlin showed a sharp decline during the period 1960-1975, followed by a period of stabilization from about 1976 to 1995 and further decline thereafter (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Blue marlin standardized combined CPUE indices estimated using equal weighting for all CPUE series (EQW), weighting the CPUE series by area (ARW) and by catch (CAW).
Assessment Model
Assessment Model Entry

Unlike the partial assessment of 2006 assessment, the Committee conducted a full assessment in 2011, which included estimations of management benchmarks. The results of the 2011 assessment indicated that the stock remains overfished and undergoing overfishing (Figure 4). This is in contrast to the results of the 2006 assessment which indicated that even though the stock was likely overfished, the declining trend had partially stabilized. Current status of the blue marlin stock is presented in Figure 5. However, the Committee recognizes the high uncertainty with regard to data and the productivity of the stock.

Figure 4. Trends of F/FMSY and SSB/SSBMSY ratios for blue marlin from the base model (SS3). Solid lines represent median from MCMC runs, and broken lines the 10% and 90% percentiles, respectively.
Figure 5. Phase plot for blue marlin from the base model in final year model assessment (2009). Individual points represent MCMC iterations, large diamond the median of the series. Blue circles with line represent the historic trend of the median F/FMSY vs SSB/SSBMSY 1965-2008.
Overall Assessment Results


Although uncertain, the results of the 2011 stock assessement indicated that if the recent catch levels of blue marlin (3,240 t in 2009) are not substantially reduced, the stock will continue to decline further (Figure 6). The current management plan does not have the potential of recovering the blue marlin stock to the BMSY level.

Figure 6. Trends of SSB/SSBMSY ratios under different scenarios of constant catch projections (TAC tons) for blue marlin from the base model. Projections start in 2010, for 2010/11 it was assumed a catch of 3,341 t.
Management unit: Yes

Effects of current regulations

Recommendations [Rec. 00-13], [Rec. 01-10] and [Rec. 02-13] placed additional catch restrictions for blue marlin and white marlin. The latter established that “the annual amount of blue marlin that can be harvested by pelagic longline and purse seine vessels and retained for landing must be no more than 33% for white marlin and 50% for blue marlin of the 1996 or 1999 landing levels, whichever is greater”. That recommendation established that: “All blue marlin and white marlin brought to pelagic longline and purse seine vessels alive shall be released in a manner that maximizes their survival. The provision of this paragraph does not apply to marlins that are dead when brought along the side of the vessel and that are not sold or entered into commerce”. The Committee estimated the catch of pelagic longline vessels for a subset of fleets that the Committee thought would be expected to be affected by Recommendations [Rec. 00-13] and [Rec. 02-13]. Catches of these fleets represent 97% of all longline caught blue marlin, and 93% of all longline caught white marlin for the period 1990-2007. Catches of both species have declined since 1996-99, the period selected as the reference period by the recommendations. Since 2002, the year of implementation of the last of these two recommendations, the catch of blue marlin has been below the 50% value recommended by the Commission. Specifically, the 2011 longline landings were 51% of the baseline established by the Commission. Similarly, the catch of white marlin since 2002 has been at about the 33% value recommended by the Commission. This analysis represents only longline caught marlin even though the recommendations referred to the combined catch of pelagic longline and purse seine, because the catch estimates of billfish bycatch from purse seine vessels are more uncertain than those from longline. Over the period considered, purse seine caught marlin represent 2% of the total catch reported by the combination of purse seine and pelagic longline. The Committee notes that the management plan developed by the Commission was based on the fact that at that time most blue marlin and white marlin originated from industrial fisheries. Since then, the Committee noted a significant increase in the contribution from non-industrial fisheries to the total blue marlin and white marlin harvest and that these fisheries are not fully accounted for in the current management plan.Some fisheries/fleets are using circle hooks, which can minimize deep hooking and increase the survival of marlins hooked on longlines and recreational gear. More countries have started reporting data on live releases in 2006. Additional information has come about, for some fleets, regarding the potential for modifying gears to reduce the by-catch and increase the survival of marlins. Such studies have also provided information on the rates of live releases for those fleets. However there is not enough information on the proportion of fish being released alive for all fleets, to evaluate the effectiveness of the ICCAT recommendation relating to the live release of marlins.

Management Advice

− The current blue marlin stock assessment, considering all the uncertainties in the assessment, indicates that the stock is below BMSY and that fishing mortality is above FMSY (2009). Unless the recent catch levels (3,240 t, 2009) are substantially reduced, the stock will likely continue to decline. The Commission should adopt a rebuilding plan for the stock of Atlantic blue marlin.

The Commission should implement management measures to immediately reduce fishing mortality on blue marlin stock by adopting a TAC that allow the stock to increase (2,000 t or less, including dead discards; Figure 7):

1. To facilitate the implementation of the TAC, the commission may consider the adoption of measures such as, but not limited to: a) Total prohibition of landings of blue marlin from pelagic longline and purse seine fisheries to improve the effectiveness of current management measures. b) Encouraging the use of alternative gear configurations that reduce the likelihood of deep hooking therefore increasing the post-release survival (for example, circle hooks) and/or reduce catchability (e.g., reducing the number of shallowhooks in a longline set, etc). c) Implementation of time-area closures. d) Reduce fishing mortality of blue marlin from non-industrial fisheries. 2. Noting the misidentification problems between white marlin and spearfishes, the Group recommended that management recommendations combine these species as a mixed stock until more accurate species identification and differentiation of species catches are available. 3. The Commission should encourage the reporting of catches of white marlin and roundscale spearfish separated.
Figure 7. Kobe II Strategy Matrix (K2SM). Percent values indicate the probability of achieving the goal of SSByr >= SSBMSY and Fyr< FMSY for each year (yr) under different constant catch scenarios (TAC tons). Red corresponds to 0-39%, yellow 40-60%, green >60%.
Maximum Sustainable Yield 2,837 t (2,343 – 3,331 t) 1
Current (2010) Yield 3,160 t 2

Relative Biomass (SSB2009/SSBMSY))

0.67 (0.53 – 0.81) 1

Relative Fishing Mortality (F2009/FMSY)

1.63 (1.11 – 2.16) 1

Conservation and Management Measure in Effect

Recommendation [Rec. 06-09]. The annual amount of blue marlin that can be harvested by pelagic longline and purse seine vessels and retained for landing must be no more than 33% for white marlin and 50% for blue marlin of the 1996 or 1999 landing levels, whichever is greater
1A Stock Synthesis version 3.2.0.b model results. Values correspond to median estimates, 95% confidence interval values are provided in parenthesis.
22010 yield should be considered provisional. 2009 yield corresponded to 3,240 t. The 2009 yield used in the 2011 assessment was 3,341 t.

Source of information
Report of the Standing Committee on research and Statistics (SCRS) . “Atlantic Blue marlin and White marlin, executive summaries.” Madrid, Spain 3-7 October 2011. Click to open
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