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Press Release – Western Pacific Fishery Management Council Maintains 346,000-Pound Catch Limit for Hawai`i Deep 7 Bottomfish, Urges the Feds to Support US Fisheries at International Meetings

Bottomfish catch in Guam

A typical shallow bottomfishing catch in Guam
may include more than a dozen species.

HONOLULU (24 October 2014) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded its three-day 161st  meeting yesterday in Honolulu, voting to maintain its previous recommendation of 346,000 pounds for the 2014-2015 annual catch limit (ACL) for main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) Deep 7 bottomfish.

The MHI Deep 7 fishery is the only one of its kind in the State of Hawai`i after a Presidential proclamation created a marine national monument and banned fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Deep 7 fishery consists of a complex of six deep-water snappers and one grouper, including prized `opakapaka and onaga. The Deep 7 bottomfish are featured in signature dishes by local restaurants serving Hawai`i Pacific cuisine and are culturally significant in Hawai`i.

The Council made its original ACL recommendation to the Secretary of Commerce in June of this year, based upon a 2011 stock assessment. In late August 2014, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) advised the Council that the “best available” data is a 2014 draft stock assessment from the NMFS Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center. National Standard 2 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires the use of best available information when making federal fishery management decisions. However, the Council, its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and Hawai`i Deep 7 bottomfish fishermen argue that the 2014 assessment is not the best “available” data because it has not been independently peer-reviewed and its validity is questionable.

Yesterday, Deep 7 bottomfish fishermen provided testimony to the Council. Fresh off the boat from 30-hour fishing trips, flying in at their own expense from neighbor islands and giving up a day of work on the water, they noted that the NMFS proposal to utilize NMFS’s 2014 draft assessment would reduce their ACL by about 85,000 pounds. That reduction would equate to about 25 percent of their income for the fishing year that began Sept. 1, 2014, and ends Aug. 31, 2015.

The Council and its SSC had considered the 2014 draft stock assessment at their June 2014 meetings. However, they, along with the bottomfish fishermen attending the meetings, questioned the catch-per-unit-effort standardization model used in the 2014 draft assessment and argued that it was in need of independent peer-review. NMFS at that time said that the bottomfish fishermen would be consulted.

In making its decision yesterday, the Council noted that the fishery is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, that both the 2011 and 2014 stock assessments show the MHI bottomfish biomass trending upward and the conservative life history information of `opakapaka was used as a proxy for the stock complex. In addition, the Council said NMFS should consult fishermen and other members of the public prior to independent review of the 2014 draft assessment and, for future assessments, incorporate additional types of data (such as size data), explore ways to further divide the species complex into small groups or individual species and consider changes in technological efficiency and potential bottomfish biomass in the State of Hawai`i’s bottomfish restricted fishing areas.

The Council made several recommendations to NMFS regarding international management of tuna and other migratory pelagic species in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The Council urged NMFS, as the head of the US delegation to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), to be strong in its support of the Hawaii and American Samoa longline and other US fisheries. The WCPFC is scheduled to meet Dec. 1 to 5, 2014, in Apia, Samoa. The Council recommended that the US Delegation advocate for the following at that meeting:

  • To address overfishing of bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO): a) An amendment to conservation and management measure (CMM) 2013-01 to make measures applicable to purse-seine vessels more effective in reducing juvenile catches; this would include full purse-seine closure periods and purse-seine bigeye catch limits or purse-seine set limits on fish aggregation devices commensurate with 2010 levels; and b) No further reductions to the US longline bigeye catch limit, because catch quotas on the longline fishery sector have been reduced substantially since 2008, whereas purse-seine bigeye catch has steadily increased;
  • To address the overfishing and overfished condition of North Pacific striped marlin in the WCPO:
    a) Development of CMMs that will end overfishing and lead to stock recovery, such as fishing at a constant catch of 3,600 metric tons (mt) as noted in the 2012 stock assessment, and b) measures that establish limits of not more than 500 mt for any Commission members and Participating Territories with a history of catching less than 500 mt of striped marlin.
  • South Pacific albacore management: A more effective and comprehensive CMM for the species.
  • Regarding domestic measures for these species, the Council made the following recommendations, among others:Bigeye tuna: a) Realignment of the bigeye assessments to reflect the biology of bigeye and the spatial distribution of the fisheries and tag recaptures. In particular, tag recaptures around Hawaii could be used to distinguish a sub-region encompassing the extent of the Hawaii longline fishery; b) Analyses for the specification of 2015 Territory longline bigeye limits including catch and allocation limits.
  • North Pacific striped marlin: Establishment of an overall limit of 457 mt and a limit of 434 mt of striped marlin applicable to the Hawai`i longline fishery (i.e., 95 percent of the 457 mt limit). In the event that the 434 mt limit is reached, the Hawai`i longline fishery would not be allowed to retain striped marlin. There were no striped marlin restrictions recommended for other Hawai`i fisheries (e.g., troll and handline), which account for less than 5 percent of total commercial striped marlin catch.
  • South Pacific albacore: Initial action to establish a provisional longline South Pacific albacore limit of 5,418 mt applicable to the US EEZ around American Samoa.Among other actions taken by the Council today are the following.
  • 2015 ACLs for bottomfish fishery in American Samoa, Guam and CNMI: The Council recommended ACLs of 101,000 pounds, 66,800 pounds and 228,000 pounds, respectively. These are the same ACLs as 2014. The Council noted that the catch comprised a small proportion of the existing limit, there was no significant change in the fishery or the management of this fishery and there is no new scientific information to change the existing limits. A new assessment is scheduled for 2015.
  • Coral reef fish, crustacean and MHI non-Deep 7 bottomfish: The Council modified the ACL for Siganidae (rabbit fish) in American Samoa and Guam for 2014. The ACL in American Samoa increased from 163 to 200 pounds, while the ACL for rabbit fish in Guam dropped from 19,200 to 18,600 pounds.
  • Hawaii yellowfin and bigeye tuna commercial size limits:  The Council recommended research on yellowfin harvest rates, utilization and socio-economic issues related to catch, and market flow of small tuna in Hawaii.For more on the Council actions, email info.wpcouncil@noaa.gov or phone (808) 522-8220. The Council was established by Congress under the MSA in 1976 to manage domestic fisheries operating seaward of State waters around Hawai`i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Pacific Island Remote Island Areas. Recommendations by the Council are transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Appointees by the Secretary of Commerce from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai`i governors: Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair) ; Edwin Ebisui (Hawai`i) (vice chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); William Sword, recreational fisherman (American Samoa) (vice chair); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency Ltd. (Hawai`i); Julie Leialoha, biologist (Hawai`i); Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, Port Administration (American Samoa); and McGrew Rice, commercial and charter fisherman (Hawai`i). Designated state officials: Manny Pangelinan, CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources (chair); William Aila, Hawai`i Department of Land & Natural Resources; Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources; and Mariquita Taitague, Guam Department of Agriculture. Designated federal officials: Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office; David Hogan, US Department of State; RAdm Cari B. Thomas, US Coast Guard 14th District; and Susan White, USFWS Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuges Complex.