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FL - Mystery of the disappearing mahi-mahi divides fishermen The colorful dolphinfish, or mahi

The colorful dolphinfish, or mahi-mahi, is one of the most coveted species for recreational fishermen as well as the commercial vessels. Charter boat captains in Florida and Puerto Rico say they are seeing far fewer and much smaller fish in recent years. But who is to blame isn’t clear, and some point to climate change.

At a recent meeting of federal regulators in the Florida Keys, local fishermen raised the alarm that one of the most popular fish they go after – the dolphinfish or mahi-mahi - is fast disappearing from local waters.

They blame the larger commercial fishing vessels that haul in fish by the thousands, using long lines to catch the migrating schools of mahi-mahi, known as dorado in Spanish.

“It’s progressively getting worse and worse,” said Jon Reynolds, a veteran charter boat captain in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, who says it is hurting the livelihood of many small, family-owned business, as well as damaging the environment of coastal waters that attract thousands of tourists each year.

Charter captains, as well as recreational anglers, say they are seeing fewer and fewer mahi-mahi off the coasts of Florida and Puerto Rico, and the ones they are catching are much smaller than these veteran fishermen have been used to catching for decades.

But industry regulators and the commercial fishing boats, say the plight of the charter boats is more complicated than that. Commercial “long line” fishing is not permitted off the Florida coast and federal regulations allocate the vast majority of the 24.5 million pounds of mahi-mahi allowed annually to the charter boats and their recreational rod-and-reel customers.

While the charter boats have an annual limit of nearly 22 million pounds - 93% of the permitted mahi-mahi catch - the commercial vessels are allocated only 1.7 million pounds, or less than 7% of the annual haul.

While there are thousands of charter boats who take recreational customers out fishing for a day or half day up and down the U.S. east coast, there are only about 50 licensed commercial vessels operating in those waters, according to U.S. fishery regulators working for the Department of Commerce and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Commercial fishermen say don't blame us for scarcity of Mahi-mahi

“This mystery of the mahi-mahi, it's unknown to me exactly what the issue is and why it is happening. You would probably have to go ask the good Lord above or Mother Nature. But to single out one group who is only allocated seven percent of the total allocation, to me is a falsehood,” said Dewey Hemilright, the owner of a 42-foot North Carolina commercial fishing vessel, the Tar Baby.

Scientists say other factors could play a role such as the impact of climate change and warming seas on the migratory pattern of fish heading north to find cooler water.

The crisis seems to be most impacting the southeast United States, while fishermen further north in North Carolina and New Jersey are reporting healthy catches.

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