Monday, March 17, 2008

Bottomfish: closed season increased imports

It's not surprising: When the first closed season for bottomfish in the main Hawaiian Islands took effect last summer, ratio of imports of the same fish increased dramatically.

(Image: An 'ōpakapaka swims by a BotCam used for monitoring the health of Pacific fish stocks. National Marine Fisheries Services photo.)

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that in previous summers, there were about 1.8 pounds of imported bottomfish for every pound caught locally. During the closed season from May 15 to Sept. 31, 2007, the percentage climbed to 4.5 pounds per locally caught pound.

The fishery council, in its winter 2008 newsletter, expressed surprise that the situation did not result in an increase in the prices of locally caught bottomfish. I concluded that this may have been because folks didn't realize that some Hawai'i bottomfish were still available.

There are several explanations required here.

First, bottomfish are considered to be seven species of prized eating fish caught in relatively deep waters around the islands. They include the grouper hāpu'upu'u, and the snappers lehi, onaga, gindai, 'ehu, kalekale and 'ōpakapaka.

Second, the reason there were still some locally caught bottomfish in the mix (the 1 pound of local catch compared to the 4.5 pounds of imports) is that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) bottomfishery remained open. The closed season only applies to the depleted stocks in the main Hawaiian Islands. The new NWHI Bottomfishing Hui, has launched an educational program to let Hawai'i residents know that there is still legal local bottomfish available during the closed season.

Third, the situation changes further in 2011, when all commercial fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will be terminated, a part of the law established with President Bush's creation of what came to be known as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The next closed season will be from May 1 to Aug. 31, 2008. The next fishing season, starting Sept. 1, 2008, may include special reporting requirements, bag limits for non-commercial anglers, vessel markings and other features.

Since the fishery reopened after last summer's closed season, anglers by late February had caught close to two-thirds of the established total allowable catch for the open season. The total allowable catch is 178,000 pounds for the cumulative weight of the seven bottomfish species. If the catch reaches that number before the scheduled end of the open season, the fishing will be immediately halted for bottomfish in the main Hawaiian Islands.

For more information, see, a site jointly operated by the state Division of Aquatic Resources, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate