The State Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed Friday to a request from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources to reopen four of 12 Bottomfish Restricted Areas in the Main Hawaiian Islands, according to a DLNR news release. One of the areas set to be reopened includes Po‘ipu, on Kaua‘i’s South Shore.
These restricted areas were first established in 1998 to provide refuge for what are known as the deep-7 bottomfish species. They were set up based on a federal stock assessment that indicated certain species were in danger of being overfished.
“A 2018 stock assessment by NOAA, using improved methodologies, determined that the deep-7 bottomfish complex is not experiencing overfishing currently,” DAR Acting Administrator Brian Neilson said in the release.
The BLNR approved what is considered a conservative approach toward opening up some BRFAs for fishing. This approach, Neilson and a DAR biologist told the BLNR, ensures continued protection of significant portions of the bottomfishing habitat while allowing DAR to gather more information about the influence of fishing on bottomfish stocks over time.
The deep-7 (Lehi, Hapuu, Ulaula or Ehu, Ulaula koae or Onaga, Opakapaka, Kalekale and Ukikiki or Gindai) are among the most sought-after fish for human consumption. The fishery exists in both state and federal waters and is currently managed under a cooperative, joint approach. Based on the most recent data analysis, the 2018 commercial take of the deep-7 was 230,912 pounds. The Annual Catch Limit (set at 42 percent risk of overfishing) is 492,000 pounds. For the past 10 years the catch has averaged 251,761 pounds. This, in addition to NOAAs stock assessment, indicated that the stock is not being overfished. This is the information DAR believes warranted less restrictive rules.
Existing regulations will remain in effect and include bottomfish vessel registration, expedited catch reporting, expedited dealer reporting, gear restrictions, commercial size limits, non-commercial bag limits, and Annual Catch Limits.
Bottomfish grow relatively slowly and reach spawning size late in life, so large, old fish are important to the population. This was a reason for the establishment of the original 19 BRFAs, which were amended to the current 12 restricted areas in 2007.
To determine which BRFAs to reopen DAR considered several factors including habitat value, fishery catch, enforceability and safety. Additionally, the division surveyed registered bottomfishermen and considered recommendations from the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council. Based on this input DAR recommended the opening of these BRFAs to fishing: BRFA C (Po‘ipu, Kaua‘i), BRFA F (Penguin Banks), BRFA J (Hana, Maui), and BRFA L (Leleiwi, Hawai‘i Island).
DAR will be redefining the deep-7 bottomfish catch reporting system. Reporting grids, used since 1948, will still be used but will be complemented by sub-grid overlays. This will allow the division to track fish caught in any of the opened BRFAs and institute any further management actions, including the amendment or immediate closure of a BRFA if necessary.
The BLNR delegated next steps involved in opening the BRFAs to DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. These steps include: consultation with the Department of the Attorney General, filing with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, publication of notification of change, and potentially direct notice to registered bottomfishers.