The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council voted Wednesday to extend the closure of the 2008 Main Hawaiian Islands bottomfishery from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15.
In April, bottomfishing was temporarily closed in state and federal waters because the season’s total allowable catch of 178,000 pounds was reached in mid-March. The season began on Oct. 1, 2007, and was scheduled to close in May.
Bottomfishing for the snapper and grouper species, known as the “Deep 7,” which include ehu, gindai, kalekale, lehi, onaga, opakapaka and hapu‘upu‘u is forbidden during the closure.
The reason for the delay is to allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center to finish an updated assessment of data that will be run through a computer model to analyze the potential risk of overfishing at different catch levels.
Currently the stock assessment includes data only to 2004. The updated stock assessment will include catch data from 2005 through 2007.
“There hasn’t been time to plug that data into the model,” Sean Martin, chair of the fishery council, said. “We didn’t want to set a quota without the best available information.”
Martin said the council hopes to have the updated stock assessment data by the next council meeting in October.
After the data is reviewed by the council and its Scientific and Statistical Committee at the meeting, a total allowable catch for the 2008-2009 season will be set.
“We are trying refine the measures that are necessary to reduce or stop overfishing from occurring,” Martin said.
For Kevin DeSilva of Kapa‘a, a local fisherman and owner of DeSilva’s Wholesale Fishing, bottomfishing is the cornerstone of his business and the closure has had a big impact on his business.
With bottomfishing closed, DeSilva has to depend on trawling the open waters for ahi.
And with rising fuel prices, it is getting expensive for him to fish.
“I rely on bottomfish so much because I don’t burn so much fuel,” DeSilva said. “It’s getting tough out there.”
The bottomfishing closure also affects restaurants and fish markets on Kaua‘i.
Douglas Allen, owner of the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant and Fish Market and a regular customer of DeSilva’s, said the effects of the bottomfish closure have trickled down to his business.
“Every day people walk in the market asking for opakapaka,” Allen said. “People are looking for those fish.”
Allen warns that any bottomfish listed on restaurant menus on Kaua‘i is most likely from the South Pacific and isn’t very fresh.
Until the season starts again, Allen said he has been working with whatever is available and affordable.
Allen said he was surprised at the closure because there usually aren’t high amounts of bottomfish being extracted from the ocean.
“There’s only a couple of guys who know how to do it on Kaua‘i,” Allen said. “There are only certain days of the year they can go out and get fish.”
Allen said it is a hard road to fish bottomfish.
“(The closure) is affecting local families who rely on bottomfishing to pay their mortgages and feed and their families,” Allen said.
Maps of the closed state waters are available at hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/
? Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org