The information on this page is from contributing authors who's work is related to billfish in general. I will add more content as time permits or as new related material is released.

Marlin Structure and Function, and Common and Scientific Names of marlin and billfishes was contributed by Peter S. Davie.

Characteristics of Billfish Anglers was contributed by Robert B. Ditton and Kirk S. Gillis of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University. This study reveals some very interesting characteristics of the anglers that you may meet in Cabo on your next visit. Mr. Ditton and his colleagues have many other recent studies which should be of great interest to anglers. I have included links to the Adobe PDF files.






Peter S. Davie

What do we really know about marlins? How big do they get? How fast do they swim? Do they see colours? Do they change sex as they grow? These questions are amongst the common ones asked by anglers and onlookers at tournament "weigh-ins" after they have asked what it is. Since the world leading policy by Australian fisheries to exclude commercial marlin fishing from prime recreational waters since 1987 the east coast has seen the development of what could be argued the worlds best recreational bill fishery. But have we learned much about marlin since then? It is the aim of these articles is to answer some of the questions posed above and to provide a review of the state of our knowledge. First however, a bit of background about marlin in the Pacific Ocean is in order.

The tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific Ocean are home to three of the largest and fastest blue water predators, the black, blue and striped marlins. Blue marlin have been weighed in at over 800 kg (1800 lbs) and have been estimated in excess of 900 kg from carcasses from commercial longline fishing vessels. Their size, speed and athletic ability make marlin spectacular sporting fishes, sought after by recreational fishermen and women who often target marlins and their billfish relatives in special billfish tournaments. Marlin are also highly regarded at the table and support significant commercial billfish fisheries.

The total Pacific Ocean catch of marlins is estimated to have been around 30,000 tonnes in 1985, about 250,000 fish. Of this, about 90% is taken by longline fishing vessels which primarily target tuna species. Billfish comprise about 18% of the total tuna longline catch and represent an important by catch for these vessels. The recreational and subsistence billfish catches are believed to be small but not insignificant compared with the longline by catch. The rapid growth and subsequent decline of the recreational and commercial swordfish fisheries off the east coast of Florida between 1977 and 1985 has helped to focus attention on billfish species and great progress has recently been made toward billfish management. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has been able to negotiate agreements on management strategies for the Atlantic Ocean and action management plans such as the Atlantic Billfish Management Plan (Approved by US Secretary of Commerce in 1988) which seeks to "Maintain the highest availability of billfishes for the recreational fishery...". The Governments of Australia since 1979, Mexico since 1983, and New Zealand since 1987 have attempted to enhance their recreational billfish fisheries by exclusion of longline vessels from parts of their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

These actions have highlighted many features of recreational billfish fisheries including their environmental sensitivity, high financial return per fish captured and significant contributions to the successful cooperative tag and release programmes.

The need to bring together all available information on billfishes from time to time has been recognised and acted upon by several organisations. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sponsored the first International Billfish Symposium in 1972 and co-sponsored with the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) and a number of other bodies the second International Billfish Symposium in 1988. Justifiably these meetings were mostly concerned with the problems surrounding effective management and considered at length subjects such as stock identification and assessment, age, growth and early life history development and reproduction. However, as a result there is almost nothing about the structure or function contained within the proceedings of these symposia.

These articles will concentrate on how these magnificent fishes live their daily lives. How they swim, breathe, see, eat and reproduce rather than on aspects of the fisheries for marlins. Much of the information for the articles is drawn from my book, PACIFIC MARLINS: ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY available from the author directly.






Peter S. Davie

Articulated skeleton of a black marlin. 2100 mm standard length. 66 kg.

All of the billfishes are bony fishes (members of the subclass Teleostei) of the order Perciformes, suborder Xiphioid. They belong to either the family Xiphiidae which has but one species, the broadbill swordfish (Xiphias Gladius) or the family Istiophoridae.

The family Istiophoridae is comprised of three genera:

  • Istiophorus, the sailfishes,
  • Tetrapturus, the spearfishes and striped and white marlin, and
  • Makaira, the blue and black marlins.

Billfishes are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the oceans mentioned. The following list is not in phylogenetic order.

Common name Genus Species Distribution
White marlin Tetrapturus albidus Atlantic Ocean
Striped marlin Tetrapturus audax Indo-Pacific Ocean
Blue marlin * Makaira nigricans World wide
Black marlin Makaira indica Indo-Pacific Ocean
Broadbill swordfish Xiphias gladius World wide
Indo-Pacific sailfish Istiophorus platypterus Indo-Pacific Ocean
Atlantic sailfish Istiophorus albidus Atlantic Ocean
Shortbill spearfish Tetrapturus angustirostris Indo-Pacific Ocean
Mediteranean spearfish Tetrapturus belone Mediteranean Sea
Longbill spearfish Tetrapturus pfluegeri Atlantic Ocean
Roundscale spearfish Tetrapturus georgei Mediteranean Sea and

adjacent Atlantic Ocean

*According to Nakamura (1983), there are two species of blue marlin. This is not widely accepted, and Davie treats all information on blue marlin as pertaining to one species, Makaira nigricans.

For completeness however, Nakamura's two blue marlin species are presented:

Common name Genus Species Distribution
Atlantic Blue marlin Makaira nigricans Atlantic Ocean
Indo-Pacific Blue marlin Makaira mazara Indo-Pacific Ocean

Diagnostic features for separating Pacific marlin species, striped, blue and black marlin, are briefly described below:

Striped marlin: Height of first dorsal fin as high as, or higher than maximum body depth; blue and black marlin first dorsal fin height less than maximum body depth. Twelve precaudal and 12 caudal vertebrae: blue and black marlin have 11 precaudal and 13 caudal vertebrae. Body laterally compressed: blue and black marlin have rounded bodies.

Blue marlin: Pectoral fin may be retracted (adducted) against body; black marlin have rigid pectoral fins. Looped (Indo-Pacific) or hexagonal (Atlantic) lateral line pattern; black and striped marlin have simple (single) lateral line.

Black marlin: Pectoral fin non-adductable. Insertion of second dorsal fin is cranial of the insertion of the second anal fin; blue and striped marlin second dorsal fin more caudal than second anal fin.





Peter Davie is a senior lecturer in Physiology and Anatomy, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. His research interests are in the areas of cardiovascular and respiratory anatomy and physiology of fishes as diverse as hagfish and marlins. He studied at Canterbury University for his BSc (Hons) and Ph.D. He was a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia in 1979 and 1980 after which he took up his present position at Massey University. He has been associated with the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council since 1983 and has been active in promoting gamefish conservation in New Zealand. An Affiliated Scientist with the Pacific Gamefish research Foundation, Hawaii since 1985 he has worked at their laboratory in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii several times for periods up to four months.







Social and Economic Study of Billfish Tournament Anglers in Cabo San Lucas

Robert B. Ditton and Kirk S. Gillis
Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-2258

Prepared for the Bisbee's Black & Blue Marlin Jackpot Tournament , Gold Cup Productions Tournament, and the Pete Lopiccola Memorial Marlin Tournament with partial funding support provided by The Billfish Foundation and Texas A&M University.

In order to better understand and be responsive to the needs of current and future tournament anglers, it is necessary for tournament planners and directors to conduct market research. Previous efforts have ranged from collecting basic angler data as a part of tournament entry forms to more detailed post event surveys mailed to randomly selected samples of tournament participants. These later efforts have typically focused on understanding the social and economic characteristics of anglers, their annual fishing activity and methods, and tournament expenditures and their distribution patterns (at home, en-route, or during the tournament event).

In addition to providing local communities with a better understanding of the economic impacts of their tournament events, data collected have been previously useful for developing and implementing event strategies (where number of anglers participating, angler origin, number of non-participants brought by anglers, and length of stay are varied) in an effort to enhance the extent of local economic impact (Ditton and Loomis 1988; Ditton and Loomis, 1985). Furthermore, comparisons of market characteristics for tournament anglers and the overall population of licensed saltwater anglers have revealed important group differences. In particular, tournament anglers have been much more active in terms of their annual fishing participation, the extent of their involvement in recreational fishing, and their commitment to the sport (Falk, et. al., 1989).

The main objective of this report is to provide a profile of fishing patterns, overall participation characteristics, and demographic descriptors for anglers who participated in three billfish tournaments held in Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur, Mexico in the fall of 1994. This will enable tournament planners and directors to make comparisons with the population of charter boat anglers who fished for billfish in the study area (Ditton, et. al., 1996) and with saltwater tournament anglers elsewhere (Falk, et. al., 1989).


A mail questionnaire was used to collect information from a sample of anglers who participated in three tournaments held in Cabo San Lucas in the Fall, 1994: Bisbee's Black and Blue Marlin Jackpot Tournament, Gold Cup Productions Tournament and the Pete Lopiccola Memorial Marlin Tournament. Information sought included personal characteristics and fishing patterns.

The mail survey was sent to the 624 individuals who participated in one or more of the three aforementioned billfish tournaments. Survey mailings began on March 10, 1995 and followed a slightly modified Dillman (1978) methodology. Sampling continued through May, 1995 and a total of 270 questionnaires were completed and returned. After non-deliverables were removed, an overall effective response rate of 44.9% was achieved. There was no check done to ensure that there were no significant differences between respondents and non-respondents. However, a check of non-respondents was conducted in the overall Southern Baja Recreational Billfish Study, which sampled both general and tournament anglers, and no significant differences were found (Ditton, et. al., 1996).


Characteristics of Billfish Anglers

  • Most (94.1%) anglers were male and 65.8% were between 36 and 54 years of age with an average age of 46.2 years. They were predominantly white (98.4%) and non-Hispanic (88.6%).
  • The median annual household income for anglers was $130,000 - $150,000, and the median education level was three years of college.
  • Anglers reported an average of 23.6 years of saltwater fishing experience.
  • Anglers reported an average of 12.6 years of billfish fishing.
  • Most (54.3%) anglers reported fishing as their most important outdoor activity.
  • Most anglers (94.1%) were interested in catching blue marlin during their last tournament, followed by black marlin (74.5%), striped marlin (9.4%), swordfish (7.8%), and sailfish (6.7%).
  • In the previous twelve months, anglers spent most (27 days) of their fishing time in salt water with a boat. The mean number of total days spent fishing was 37 days. Respondents indicated this was slightly less than in previous years.
  • Most (55.2%) anglers reported putting most effort into targeting one particular species of fish. Of these anglers, most (50.7%) reported marlin, 12% specified blue marlin and 0.7% specified sailfish.
  • When asked to compare their fishing abilities to that of the general angling population; a plurality (47.3%) reported they were equally skilled, 38.1% reported they more skilled and 14.6% reported they were less skilled.
  • Anglers reported participating in an average of two fishing tournaments in the previous twelve months, with most (53.6%) participating in one fishing tournament.
  • Anglers reported an average of 4.1 days of billfish fishing in places other than in Mexico or their home state in the previous twelve months.
  • Most (66.3%) anglers reported subscribing to fishing or boating magazines. The three most frequently reported publications were: Marlin Magazine (55%), Grey's Sporting Journal (15%) and Powerboat (14%).
  • When asked about membership organizations, 31.2% reported belonging to The Billfish Foundation (TBF), 29.6% to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), 6% to the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC), 1.2% to Game Conservation International (Game Coin) and 17.4% reported membership in various other organizations.

Cabo San Lucas Billfish Tournament Trip Characteristics

  • Anglers spent an average of 3.5 days fishing during their last billfish tournament trip.
  • Anglers spent an average of 8.6 total days in Mexico on this trip.
  • On their last trip to Mexico for a billfish fishing tournament, anglers spent an average of $104 on automobile transportation, $419 on other transportation to Mexico, $56 on other transportation in Mexico, $478 on charter and guide fees, $2,541 on tournament fees, $486 on lodging, $479 on food, drink and ice, $142 on tips and $302 on other costs. The average total expenditure on their last trip to Mexico for a billfish fishing tournament was $4,949.
  • Most (64.2%) anglers have participated in more than one billfish tournament in Mexico, and 35.4% reported their last trip was their first trip to participate in a billfish tournament in Mexico.
  • Anglers reported participating in an average of 1.33 billfish tournaments in Baja Sur, Mexico during the past twelve months.
  • Anglers reported they were most interested in catching blue marlin (94.1%), black marlin (74.5%), striped marlin (9.4%), swordfish (7.8%) and sailfish (6.7%).

Billfish Angler Opinions on Management Options

  • When asked how their fishing travel plans would change if their chances for a successful trip were decreased by 25% due to continued commercial longlining in Mexico; almost one-half (45.8%) of anglers reported they would travel to another destination to fish for billfish, 30.3% reported they would continue to travel to Mexico and fish for billfish, 15.5% reported they would travel to Mexico and fish for another species, 4.4% reported they would travel to another destination and not fish for billfish, and 4.0% reported they would travel to Mexico and not fish.
  • When anglers who indicated they would travel to an another destination and fish for billfish (45.8%) were asked where they would go as a substitute, they responded: the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica (36.5%), Hawaii (27.1%), Venezuela (16.1%), Panama (15.7%), Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica (12.2%), US Virgin Islands (11.4%), Florida (10.2%), California (8.6%), Guatemala (6.7%), Puerto Rico (5.5%) and various other destinations represented (11.4%).
  • When asked where they were most likely to go as a substitute for Baja Sur, Mexico, about one-third (34.2%) indicated the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and 24.0% chose Hawaii.


Dillman, D.A. 1978. Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Ditton, R.B. and D.K. Loomis. 1985. 1983 Texas International Fishing Tournament: An Analysis of Participants' Characteristics, Attitudes, and Expenditures. TAMU-SG-85-202, Texas A&M Univ. Sea Grant College Program.

Ditton, R.B. and D.K. Loomis. 1988. 1985 Hall of Fame Fishing Tournament: An Analysis of Participants' Characteristics, Attitudes, and Expenditures. TAMU-SG-88-201. Texas A&M University Sea Grant College Program.

Ditton, R.B., S.R. Grimes and L.D. Finkelstein. 1996. A Social and Economic Study of the Recreational Billfish Fishery in the Southern Baja Area of Mexico. Report prepared for the International Billfish Research and Conservation Foundation, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Falk, J.M., A.R. Graefe, and R.B. Ditton. 1989. Patterns of Participation and Motivation Among Saltwater Tournament Anglers. Fisheries (Bethesda) 14(4:10-17).

We acknowledge the data collection and analysis assistance of Shepherd Grimes, a research assistant in the Department.

For an executive summary of results of a survey of charter boat billfish anglers in the southern Baja region for comparison purposes, please check out this webpage. For more information on the Human Dimensions Research Lab at Texas A&M University, Please contact Dr. Robert B. Ditton, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-2258 or see the Lab webpage.