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Press Release – Hawai’i Swordfish Harvest Is Back after Nine-Month Hiatus – New Measures Will Aid Fishery and Protect Sea Turtles (16 January 2020)

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 Swordfish landed by the Hawai’i longline fleet being prepared for auction in Honolulu.  

HONOLULU (16 January 2020)The Hawai’i swordfish fishery is expected to land its first catch in nine months tomorrow. This healthy fishery produces approximately 55 percent of America’s domestic swordfish and supplies 14 percent of the total US swordfish market.


“Without Hawai’i swordfish, US markets will increase their dependence on foreign suppliers,” said Kitty M. Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which manages the fishery. “Our pelagic longline fisheries are well managed and rigorously monitored, and regulations are enforced. International fishery management organizations consider them model fisheries and have adopted many of the measures we developed. Our fishery targets the North Pacific stock, which is healthy (not overfished or subject to overfishing), and avoids the troubled Eastern Pacific and South Atlantic stocks.”

Some of these rigorous conservation measures include rules protecting sea turtles, gear restrictions and a cap on the number of sea turtles with which the fishery may interact. The fishery currently operates under an annual cap of 17 loggerhead and 16 leatherback turtle interactions and has 100 percent observer coverage. An interaction occurs whenever a sea turtle becomes hooked or entangled in longline gear, as recorded by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) observer.
The fishery closed on March 19 last year after reaching the loggerhead cap and reopened on Jan. 1, 2020.
According to a 2019 biological opinion issued by NMFS, the Hawai’i shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish does not jeopardize the continued existence of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle populations. Ninety-nine percent of turtle interactions in the fishery result in the turtle being released alive. The loggerhead turtle population, which nests in Japan, is growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent.
The Council has developed amended measures, which were transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce on Wednesday for review and approval. The amendment, which could be effective as early as May 2020, would remove the loggerhead cap and have a leatherback cap of 16. The amendment includes a trip limit of five loggerhead and two leatherback interactions, after which a vessel would be required to return to port. If that vessel reaches the trip limit again, it could not fish for swordfish for the remainder of the year and it could interact with only five loggerhead and two leatherbacks total the following year.
Mike Lee of Garden and Valley Isle Seafood notes: “The Hawai’i swordfish fishery has a multimillion dollar impact to the local economy, which includes several wholesale seafood distribution companies. Hawai’i swordfish is a premium product with high levels of demand. Fishery closures disrupt market channels and leave our customers little choice but foreign imports.”
“For the last two years the fishery operated for about three months due to premature closure and generated around $1.5 million in landed value, said Eric Kingma, executive director of the Hawaii Longline Association (HLA). “By comparison, the fishery produced three times that revenue ($4.5 million) in 2017 and nearly $9 million in 2009. Additionally, closing the fishery forces swordfish vessels to convert to target tuna (ahi) with the risk that the bigeye tuna quota may be reached before the end of the year, when market demand peaks.”
The Lady Luck, the first vessel from the Hawai‘i swordfish fleet, is expected offload around 35,000 pounds of swordfish at Pier 38 in Honolulu around 5 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 17. The swordfish could appear on the auction floor around 9 a.m. For more information, contact Eric Kingma, HLA executive director, at (808) 389-2653 or or Asuka Ishizaki, the Council’s protected species coordinator, at (808) 522-8224 or
  • Major domestic fish producer – providing 55 percent of US swordfish
  • Major supplier to total US market including imports – providing 14 percent of US swordfish market
  • Ex-vessel (landed) value – $1.5 million in 2019 (Jan. 1 – March 19); $4.5 million in 2017; $9 million in 2009
  • Management measures – permit requirements, limits on vessel size and numbers, gear restricted to circle hooks and mackerel-type bait, limit on number of sea turtle interactions, required turtle handling tools, requirement to release turtles unharmed, mandatory protected species workshops, prohibited from operating within 50 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands
  • Monitoring – logbooks, vessel monitoring system, 100 percent observer coverage (NMFS approved, independent observer on each vessel on every trip)
  • Enforcement – closure of fishery if sea turtle cap is reached
  • Target stock – North Pacific swordfish, a healthy fishery that is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing
    • Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of the stock – 15,000 metric tons (mt)
    • Current spawning stock biomass – almost double spawning stock biomass at MSY
    • Current total catch by all fleets combined – about 11,000 mt or about 73 percent of MSY
    • US harvest – currently about 1,000 mt or 10 percent of the total harvest. In 2008, the US (i.e., Hawai’i longline fisheries) harvested 18 percent of the total catch.
    • Other major fleets harvesting the North Pacific stock – Japan (about 8,000 mt) and Taiwan (about 2,000 mt)
  • Foreign competitors in the US swordfish market
    • Brazil – targeting North and South Atlantic stock, the latter of which is overfished and experiencing overfishing
    • Mexico and Ecuador (including charter vessels from Spain and the European Union) – targeting Eastern Pacific stock, which is experiencing overfishing
  • Fleet size – currently 14 vessels of which five are based in California
  • Average vessel size – 65 to 70 feet (maximum allowable 101 feet)
  • Average target depth – 98 feet


Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council: Commerce Secretary appointees from American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawai’i governor nominees: Archie Soliai, StarKist (American Samoa) (chair); John Gourley, Micronesian Environmental Services (CNMI vice chair); Michael Duenas, Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association (Guam vice chair); Edwin Watamura, Waialua Boat Club (Hawai’I vice chair); Howard Dunham, American Samoa Alia Fishing Association; Monique Genereux, business owner (Guam); Michael Goto, United Fishing Agency (Hawai’i); McGrew Rice, charter boat captain (CNMI). Designated state officials: Anthony Benavente, CNMI Dept. of Lands & 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. Federal officials : (voting) Michael Tosatto, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office and (non-voting): RADM Kevin Lunday, USCG 14th District; Michael Brakke, US State Dept.; Brian Peck, USFWS.

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