Recreational Bluefin Tuna and Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program

Management Background

Globally, tunas and billfishes (white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus), blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), swordfish (Xiphias gladius), and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)) are governed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). It is the mission of ICCAT to ensure "the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas." (ICCAT, 2009). To manage these species, ICCAT assigns catch quotas to each member country. In the United States (US), tuna and billfish recommendations from ICCAT are implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) division of Highly Migratory Species (HMS) under the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act and Magnuson Stevens Act. The Fishery Conservation Amendments of 1990 classified tunas and billfishes to be highly migratory species. In 1996, the Sustainable Fisheries Act modified the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act to create advisory panels that aid in creating fishery management plans to manage billfishes and HMS. Responsibilities of the panels include lowering bycatch and mortality related to bycatch, and stopping overfishing (NOAA, 2009).

In the late 1990's, NMFS required all recreational anglers to report Atlantic bluefin tuna (ABT; Thunnus thynnus) landings via a toll free phone number. In Maryland, that system was determined to be ineffective for accurately documenting recreational ABT landings. As a result, NMFS worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to implement an ABT Catch Card and Tagging Program as an alternative method in 1999.

A rising concern in 2002 regarding the consideration of endangered species status for the white marlin spurred an additional component to the ABT Catch Card and Tagging Program. Billfishes were added to the list of species required to be reported through MDNRs Catch Card and Tagging Program in 2002. Since 2002, the ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program has supplied NMFS with ABT and billfish landings in the state of Maryland.

Nation-wide, recreational fishing remains a popular pursuit. In 2006, 7.7 million anglers participated in saltwater fishing. Equipment and trips combined cost them $8.9 billion (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 2006). Accurately monitoring the recreational harvest of bluefin tuna and billfishes along the Atlantic coast is vitally important to the cultural, social, and economic impacts that recreational fishing has on Ocean City, MD. The White Marlin Open, an extremely popular and well-known fishing tournament held annually in Ocean City, had an estimated economic impact of $20 million dollars during the tournament week in 2004 (Town of Ocean City, 2006).


  1. Continue a long-term monitoring study of all recreationally landed Atlantic bluefin tuna and billfishes (white marlin, blue marlin, swordfish, and sailfish) in Maryland and supply those data to NMFS for use in their coastwide assessment.
  2. Continue development of program awareness among recreational anglers in order to increase compliance rates.

How it Works

Anglers are responsible for completing a catch card when they return to port for each ABT or billfish on board their vessel. A tag is provided for each completed catch card and the angler is required to place this tag around the tail of the fish before removing it from the vessel. Trailered boats cannot be pulled from the water until the tag is in place. 

Where to get the Catch Cards and Tags

Nine marinas qualify as a Recreational ABT/Billfish Reporting Station. Marinas distribute and collect catch cards, issue tags, and return leftover supplies to MDNR at the conclusion of the fishing season. In addition to the marinas, an after hours kiosk is available at the MDNR field office. Anglers that use the kiosk are expected to complete the catch card and the attached receipt, which replaces the tag. The catch card is to be deposited into the locked box at the kiosk.

As of October 17, 2007, anglers who recreationally landed swordfish and billfish outside of tournaments could report their catches to the NMFS using the HMS Non-tournament Reporting website. The fish had to be reported within one day of being landed. However, if these fish are landed in either Maryland or North Carolina, it must still be reported using a catch card.

Maryland Approved BFT/Swordfish/Billfish/Shark Reporting Stations

Reporting Station Physical Address City Phone Number
Ake Marine 12930 Sunset Ave. West Ocean City (410) 213-0421
Bahia Marina 2197 Herring Way Ocean City (410) 289-7438
Fisherman's Marina 12806 Sunset Ave. Ocean City (410) 213-2478
Ocean City Fishing Center 12940 Inlet Isle Lane West Ocean City (410) 213-1121
Ocean Pines Marina 1 Mumfords Landing Rd. Ocean Pines (410) 641-7447
Pines Point Marina 869 Yacht Club Drive Ocean Pines (410) 208-3625
Sunset Marina 12911 Sunset Ave. West Ocean City (410) 213-9600
Talbot Street Pier & Marina 311 Talbot St. Ocean City (410) 289-9125
White Marlin Marina 205 Somerset St. Ocean City (410) 289-6470
MDNR/NRP Boat House Kiosk Colonel Jack Taylor Boathouse
12917 Harbor Road
West Ocean City (410) 213-1531

Maryland Approved Shark-Only Reporting Stations

Reporting Station Physical Address City Phone Number
Buck's Place 11848 Assateague Rd. Berlin, MD (443) 513-4661
Alltackle 12826 B Ocean Gateway Ocean City (410) 213-2840


ICCAT. "International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic
Tunas." 01 Dec. 2009.

United States. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and
Wildlife-Associated Recreation. National Overview. The Service, 2007.

NOAA. "Introduction to the Highly Migratory Species Management Division." 02 Dec. 2009.

Ocean City (Maryland). Planning and Zoning Comprehensive Plan. [Ocean City, MD.:]
       The City [2006] 02 Dec. 2009.


Examples of the 2009 Maryland ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program landing cards. Cards measured 5x7 inches.

Examples of the 2009 Maryland ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program tags.


Photograph of the 2009 Maryland ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program after-hours kiosk located at the MDNR field office in West Ocean City.