HONOLULU (25 June 2020) During the months of May through July, Hawai’i fishermen and seafood consumers can rely on uku (grey snapper). While available year-round, this flavorful pink to white flesh fish, is most abundant during this time, which is when it spawns. These months also coincide with the period between the peak of the winter season for deep-water snappers and before the summer run of ‘ahi (yellowfin tuna). A versatile species, uku can be found in a wide range of depths and can be caught by trolling, bottomfishing and even spearfishing.
Yesterday, during the second day of its three-day virtual meeting, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reviewed a new stock assessment for the main Hawaiian Island uku prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Established by Congress in 1976, the Council develops management plans and amendments and monitors federal fisheries operating in waters offshore of the State of Hawai’i, the Territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the US Pacific Remote Islands Areas..
The Council directed staff to assess the scientific and management uncertainties in the fishery so that it could recommend the annual catch limit (ACL) for the fishery, when it meets next, in September. The Council will also explore splitting allocation of the ACL between the noncommercial and commercial fishing sectors. The Council’s recommendation will then go to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.
The American Samoa bottomfish fishery is a small-boat, daytime fishery that targets both shallow and deep waters, mostly nearshore.
Another major topic on the agenda yesterday was development of a rebuilding plan for American Samoa bottomfish. The most recent NMFS stock assessment for the fishery indicates that the fishery is overfished (too many fish have been removed) and subject to overfishing (too much fishing effort is occurring). Fishermen and the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) believe that the pessimistic assessment is due to poor and incomplete data.
Bottomfish habitat maps suggest that the majority of the bottomfish are caught in waters 0 to 3 miles from shore, which are under the Territory’s jurisdiction. The proposed interim measure would allow only 13,000 pounds of bottomfish to be caught annually from both federal and territorial waters, after which the bottomfish fishery in federal waters would be shut down. The average annual catch from 2013 to 2017 has been 21,139 pounds.
The Council will work with its Scientific and Statistical Committee and the American Samoa DMWR to explore other management options, such as area management and including cultural harvest at the offshore banks for deep-water snappers, to address the overfished status. The Council also requested that the NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) prioritize the development of a fishery-independent survey in American Samoa to improve understanding of the stock.
To help improve the collection of data in the American Samoa bottomfish fishery, the Council directed its staff to work with its local fishermen advisors in the Territory to identify ways the members can assist with training fishermen on using a self-reporting data app. The Council also requested that the American Samoa DMWR work with the Governor’s Fisheries Task Force to address issues with data collection that have led to the current poor stock status and to coordinate with the Council and NMFS PIFSC to develop a strategy to address those issues.
The Council also directed its staff to explore the creation of sectors in the American Samoa bottomfish fishery that would separate the species complex between the nearshore bottomfish fishery and the offshore deep-water snapper fishery.
The Council meeting will conclude today, by web conference (Webex) with host sites at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa, Chuchuko Room, 202 Hilton Rd., Tumon Bay, Guam; Hyatt Regency Saipan, Royal Palm Ave., Micro Beach Rd., Saipan, CNMI; and Department of Port Administration, Airport Conference Room, Pago Pago International Airport, Tafuna Village, American Samoa. Instructions on connecting to Webex, agendas and briefing documents will be posted at www.wpcouncil.org/meetings-calendars
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Secretary of Commerce appointees from nominees selected by American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai’i governors: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI) (vice chair); Michael Dueñas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam) (vice chair); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’i) (vice chair); Howard Dunham, commercial fisherman (American Samoa); Monique Amani, business owner (Guam); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Raymond Roberto, CNMI Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources; Suzanne Case, Hawai’i Dept. of Land & Natural Resources; Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Guam Dept. of Agriculture; Henry Sesepasara, American Samoa Dept. of Marine & Wildlife Resources. Designated federal officials (voting): Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. Designated federal officials (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US Dept. of State; and Brian Peck, US Fish and Wildlife Service.