State closes bottomfishing season for five months

The Board of Land and Natural Resources this week approved a five-month closed season for bottomfishing in all state waters, effective May through Sept. 30.

State waters, with the exception of the current bottomfish restricted fishing areas, will reopen to fishing on Oct. 1.

“This temporary closure is in response to a declared state of overfishing of seven bottomfish species in the main Hawaiian Islands. It is part of an ongoing effort to better protect Hawai’i’s prized bottomfish stocks of onaga, ehu, ‘opakapaka, kalekale, hapu’upu’u, gindai, and lehi,” said Peter Young of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, in a press release.

“DLNR believes that this interim summer closure, in addition to modified state bottomfish restricted areas, and in coordination with NOAA Fisheries efforts to curb overfishing, will result in sustainable stocks in the future. I’m hopeful that everyone recognizes that this is a process to help protect the long-term health and supply of Hawai’i’s fishery,” said Young, in the release.

On May 27, 2005, the regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries notified the state of Hawai’i and the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council that overfishing of the bottomfish species complex was occurring in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Under the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the state and the council were required to develop a mutually acceptable plan by May 2006 for ending such overfishing.

An initial analysis by NMFS indicated that a 15 percent mortality reduction above current levels would be necessary to end overfishing in the MHI bottomfishery.

At the same time, DLNR was required to evaluate the effectiveness of its bottomfish restricted fishing areas as provided in Chapter 13-94, Hawai’i Administrative Rules.

Using recent research findings and data analysis, including eight years’ worth of extensive multi-beam sonar mapping of deep sea bottomfish habitats, discussions with federal fisheries managers, research fishing, and input from fishermen, DLNR refined its closed area network, and revised the system of bottomfish fishing restricted areas to 12 new areas.

Some 15 public meetings were held statewide in January 2006 to obtain input on these proposed restricted area revisions; the meetings were attended by over 400 people. In some communities, multiple meetings occurred, and the proposed new restricted area boundaries were shifted in location several times in response to local concerns.

Revisions to the state’s bottomfish restricted areas were approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources at its meeting of Dec. 8, 2006, and are now being formally implemented in combination with the new closed season. Maps of the new closed areas may be found on the Division of Aquatic Resources Web site at: www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/bottomfish.htm

“Despite the reduction in the total number of restricted areas, the newly selected areas increase habitat protection for bottomfish overall within the main Hawaiian Islands, by incorporating particularly high quality habitat, and reflect a balance between scientific data, management mandates, and community input,” Young said, in the release.

An analysis by DLNR staff concluded that this new network of closed areas would be sufficient to meet the 15 percent mortality reduction target determined by NMFS, a conclusion independently verified by the NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

However, a more refined federal stock assessment earlier this year indicated 24 percent mortality reduction would in fact be necessary to end overfishing in the main Hawaiian Islands, requiring additional federal management actions in addition to those undertaken by the state.

At the most recent council meeting in March, recommendations were therefore made to meet this objective by implementing an interim closure of all waters in the main Hawaiian Islands to bottomfishing from May through September.

Because such an interim closure in federal waters would be unenforceable unless mirrored by a concurrent closure in state waters, the Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Washington, D.C. requested that the DLNR specifically put in place a matching summer closure provision. It is envisioned that a similar closure will also be necessary for the summer of 2008.

A broader suite of federal measures being developed for this fishery over the next 18 months will require other complementary state actions, including: a temporary closure of state waters surrounding the existing bottomfish restricted areas in the main Hawaiian Islands during summer 2008; changes to the commercial marine license reporting requirements for bottomfishing, implementation of a fishery monitoring tool known as Total Allowable Catch (an annual quota-based monitoring process), implementation of a federal recreational bottomfishing license and reporting system, and recreational bag limits for all bottomfish species.

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