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New Bottomfish Rules

The Main Hawaiian Island (MHI) bottomfish season opens Sept. 1, and the state’s Department of Aquatic Resources (DAR) wants to more accurately count how many “Deep 7” and other bottomfish are being pulled from the ocean.

Starting this year, commercial fishermen must report to the DAR all bottomfish catches within five days of each trip – a substantial change from previous years, when for-profit fishermen were required to submit a monthly bottomfish catch report.

Officials said the changes will allow the DAR to collect more accurate data, which will help them better manage Hawaii’s fisheries.

However, some local fishermen feel their livelihood is being overregulated.

“These guys are fishermen, not computer geniuses or record keepers,” Aka Hodgins, a commercial fisherman for more than 50 years, said after a workshop hosted by representatives from DAR, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESTPAC)  at Kulana `Oiwi last week.

“Deep 7” fish are lehi, ehu, onaga, opakapaka, kalekale, gindai and hapu`upu`u. Other bottomfish include uku, ta`ape, yellowtail kalekale, kahala and three types of ulua (white, black and pig). The regulations apply to MHI waters, which range from three to 200 nautical miles offshore Hawaii.

Additionally, the DAR increased the total allowable catch (TAC) levels of bottomfish to 325,000 pounds this season, up from 254,000 pounds in 2010-11. The increase was partially a result of new data showing many bottomfish have longer lifespans than previously thought. For example, the TAC was formerly calculated assuming opakapaka live for about 20 years; scientists now believe they live for about 40 years, according to WESTPAC Program Officer Mark Mitsuyasu.

As in previous years, the DAR will calculate the season’s closing date when the TAC is approached; the 2010-11 season closed in March. The fee for a commercial bottomfishing license remains at $50 per person.

Collecting the Numbers
A report presented by WESTPAC Fishery Analyst Josh DeMello suggested recreational fishermen on Molokai caught more bottomfish than their commercial counter parts during the 2010-11 season. Scientists used statistical math on surveys of recreational fishermen to determine the results, DeMello said, but nearly everybody in attendance – including fishermen, DeMello and other officials – agreed the results were skewed by faulty data collecting.

Not all agreed, however, about how to fix the faulty data problem. Several commercial fishermen advocated demanding better data collection of recreational fishermen, but resident Halona Kaopuki said these regulations shouldn’t even apply to Molokai, where families are simply putting food on their tables. A former commercial fisherman on a tuna boat, he now fishes recreationally.

“We’re just over here to survive,” he said during the meeting. Afterward he added, “I believe that it’s not our community fishermen who are depleting the resources in the ocean. It’s the other boats, the bigger boats [from other islands like Oahu]. They gotta learn how to conserve.”

NOAA’s Kurt Kawamoto said the goal of instituting a TAC is to allow Hawaii’s bottomfish to repopulate and flourish, with eventual hopes of extended or year-round fishing seasons. Mitsuyasu added that accurate data-gathering is essential to forming TACs and managing Hawaii’s fisheries.

However, fishermen like Hodgins lamented what they saw as the over-regulation of Molokai’s fishing waters, including area closures restricting fishermen from hunting in specific locations and a DAR requirement that all crew members obtain commercial licenses. “It’s ridiculous,” he said.

“We need to get rid of the area closures,” agreed Larry Rawlins, a commercial and recreational fisherman since the ’70s. “If you open everything, it spreads everything out. People relax.”

Commercial fisherman Kenny Corder said overall, Hawaii’s fishery needs come down to better data collecting.

“If we had better data collecting, we wouldn’t have had to fish six and a half months last year – we would be able to fish for nine and a half months” because the DAR would have a more accurate picture of how many fish are in the ocean, he said.

Several people also recommended lifting the TAC and setting a predetermined season close date, but Mitsuyasa suggested this was unlikely.

“By setting a quota, we wanna control fish mortality,” he said. “If you can control that number, you’re taking direct control of the number of fish that die from fishing.”

Recreational Changes
Commercial fishermen aren’t the only ones facing changes this year. While recreational fishermen are still required to report bottomfish catches to the NOAA within three days of each trip, the cost of a two-year non-commercial bottomfish license increased from $24 in 2008 to $41 this year. When NOAA started the licensing program two years ago, they expected about 5,000 applicants statewide – but only issued about 100 permits, according to Kawamoto. The cost increase makes up for the lack of applications, he said.

Both commercial and recreational fishermen must also annually register bottomfish vessels starting this year. Other changes presented by the DAR include an exemption for Kona crab nets, hence allowing fishermen to possess the nets on a boat with bottomfish, and amending the daily bag limit so it matches federal law at five of any of the Deep 7 species.

For more information, visit hawaiibottomfish.info.


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