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U.S. Atlantic swordfish fishermen are among the most regulated and conservation-minded harvesters in the world.
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Pelagic Longlining

Swordfish SetLongline fishing is a commercial fishing technique that uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines called gangions or leaders. A leader is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with a hook at the other end. Longlines are classified mainly by where they are placed in the water column. They can be set to hang near the surface (pelagic longline) to catch fish such as tuna and swordfish or along the sea floor (demersal longline) for groundfish such as halibut or cod. Compared to other fishing techniques, longline fishing is less destructive to bottom habitats. Lines can also be set by means of an anchor, or left to drift.

Since the publication of Sebastian Junger's national best selling novel The Perfect Storm, and Discovery Channel's hit television series Swords: Life on the Line, pelagic longlining has become one of the most widely recognized forms of commercial fishing.  Pelagic longline fishermen use floats attached to the main line to keep it elevated in the water, which is necessary in order to maintain the hooks at the appropriate depth.  In addition, the depth of the hooks are also controlled by the length of the leaders and by the speed at which the longline gear is set.  Pelagic longline fishermen use a variety of bait, such as Atlantic mackerel and squid, to target swordfish and tunas.  Luminescent light sticks are often fastened to the leaders near the baited hooks, making them more attractive to the fish and also attracting smaller species on which targeted species feed.  The main lines used by the domestic fleet range from 20 to 40 miles in length.  Pelagic longliners use a vast array of high-tech devices to locate the water temperature "fronts" where the fish congregate.  Vessel Captains also use satellite services that provide sea surface and sub-surface temperatures, weather information, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), sonar, and radar to help determine the best places to set their gear.

After a variable "soak time", the gear is retrieved and the catch is brought on board for cleaning and icing down in the hold.  This "one at a time" processing and handling gives longline products a high quality distinction in the marketplace.

No marine fisherman using a hook can guarantee what species or size will bite on the bait. Pelagic longline fisherman and recreational rod and reel fisherman catch a virtually identical list and sizes of these species. U.S. pelagic longline fishermen are very heavily regulated and must report daily on each individual fish caught. They also carry observers to document their catches.

It is a certainty that recreational mortalities, kept or released, far exceed the impacts of the U.S. pelagic longline fleet. However, the lack of comprehensive recreational reporting and monitoring prevents the collection of accurate data needed to make better scientific decisions and compare the relative impacts. Pelagic longline gear is an extremely clean and habitat-friendly method of harvest. With only one hook placed approximately every 300 feet, it is very conservative in its catch. U.S. pelagic longline fishermen continue to devise better ways to conserve marine fish while providing non-fishing Americans with their share of these international marine resources.

For more information about the U.S. Atlantic pelagic longline fleet, please click here.

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