HONOLULU—The port of Honolulu consistently ranks as one of the nation’s top 10 fishing ports in terms of value landed. The reason is the sashimi-quality bigeye tuna landed by the Hawaii longline fleet. This fishery is recognized globally as a model for sustainable pelagic fishing with a rating of 95 percent against the UN Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. Eighty percent of the tuna landed by the fishery stays in Hawaii, where tuna tops the list of seafood consumed.
In the first decade of this century, the Hawaii fishery landed between 4,000 metric tons (mt) and 5,000 mt of bigeye annually. In 2008, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which oversees international management of highly migratory fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, proposed that longline fisheries reduce their take of bigeye tuna to 90 percent of their 2004 landings. The United States, which is a party to the WCPFC, agreed. Therefore, since 2009, the Hawaii longline fishery has been operating under a bigeye tuna quota of 3,763 mt in the WCPFC convention area. In 2009 and 2010, the Hawaii fishery reached the quota before the end of the year, causing a shutdown of the fishery for two days and 40 days, respectively, during the holiday season when sashimi is at its highest demand in Hawaii.
Now, the Hawaii longline bigeye quota is on the verge of potentially being further reduced to 2,300 mt, or 55 percent of its 2004 landings. That is the recommendation from the eight Pacific Islands nations that comprise the Parties to the Nauru Agreement with the Philippines and Japan, as part of the outcome of a WCPFC working group meeting convened in August 2013 in Tokyo. The proposal did not suggest any quota for the purse-seine fishery, but rather would limit the days that purse-seine vessels could fish on FADs and on the high seas in the WCPFC convention area.
The United States responded by saying it “cannot accept the proposed reduction specified for the Hawaii-based longline fleet…which has no freezer capacity and delivers only fresh fish to supply a local domestic market.” The United States also noted that “among other things, the Hawaii-based fleet operates primarily north of 20 degrees north and outside the tropical area where the vest majority of the fishing mortality occurs.” The U.S. discussion paper recognized that “an estimated 88 percent of bigeye tuna fishing mortality occurs between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south” and called for consideration to be given to spatial management of the longline fisheries.
Reducing fishing mortality of bigeye tuna is the key agenda item for the WCPFC, which will hold its 10th regular session on Dec. 6-10, 2013, in Cairns, Australia. WCPFC has not been able to find a solution to end prolonged overfishing of bigeye tuna in the WCPO. Overfishing of the species manifested when purse-seine vessels began relying on fish aggregation devices to catch skipjack tuna, their target species for canned tuna. Unfortunately, the FADs also attracted juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna.
The U.S. delegation to the WCPFC is represented by the U.S. Department of State, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Pacific and Western Pacific Fishery Management Councils and the U.S. longline and purse-seine fishing industries, among others. Management of the U.S. purse seine fishery has been under the purview of the State Department, as this fishery predominantly fishes in the exclusive economic zones of foreign nations. The Hawaii longline fishery is managed by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, whose recommendations are approved by the Secretary of Commerce and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Next week the Scientific and Statistical Committee that advises the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council will convene Tuesday through Thursday at the council’s office in Honolulu. Key among their discussion will be the future of Hawaii’s longline fishery for bigeye as well as management of sharks in the Mariana Archipelago. Fishermen in that archipelago, which includes the U.S. territory of Guam and the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, have complained for more than a decade about shark depredation, i.e., taking of their bait by sharks. The Mariana Archipelago is by default a shark sanctuary, as it has only a small-scale fishery that does not target sharks. However, there are no stock assessments of sharks in the archipelago. One consideration for the depredation problem is to reduce the shark biomass either through a directed fishery for sharks or an indirect catch by pelagic longlining. The demand for shark meat, fins, cartilage, and oil continues and could be served by the Marianas fishery.
Recommendations from the SSC will be considered by the Council on Oct. 16-18, 2013, at the YWCA-Fuller Hall, 1040 Richards St., Honolulu. For the full agendas of the SSC and Council meetings and details on public comment opportunities, go to http://www.wpcouncil.org/category/council-and-advisory-body-meetings/. For a copy of the proposals from the WCPFC working group meeting in Tokyo and the WCPFCC10 agenda, go to www.wcpfc.int.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council was established by Congress in 1976. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, it has authority over the fisheries in the Pacific Ocean seaward of the State of Hawaii, the territories of American Samoa and Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. remote island area possessions. (WESPAC)