Some bottom-fishing areas reopened

DLNR is set to open area off Hana and Pelican Banks, off Molokai and Lanai

Bottom fish species covered by these rules include: a) ‘ula‘ula koa‘e or onaga; b) ‘ula‘ula or ehu; c) kalekale; d) ‘ōpakapaka; e) ‘ūkīkiki or gindai; f) hāpu‘u; and g) lehi. These species are often referred to as the “Deep 7.” DNLR Division of Aquatic Resources graphic

The Maui News

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted Friday to reopen Bottomfish Restricted Areas off Hana and the Penguin Banks off Molokai/Lanai based on new data on bottom fish stocks in those areas.

Twelve restricted areas were first established in 1998 to provide refuge for seven deep bottom fish species. The fish and areas were set up based on federal stock assessments that indicated some species were in danger of being overfished, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

But a 2018 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stock assessment, using improved methods, determined that the “deep-7” fish were “not experiencing overfishing currently,” said Division of Aquatic Resources Acting Administrator Brian Neilson.

The BLNR approved “a conservative approach” toward opening up some restricted areas, which “ensures continued protection of significant portions of the bottom-fishing habitat while allowing us to gather more information about the influence of fishing on bottom fish stocks over time,” said Neilson.

Bottom fish grow relatively slowly and reach spawning size late in life, so large, old fish are important to the population, DLNR said.

The deep-7 are lehi; hapuu; ulaula, or ehu; ulaula koae, or onaga; opakapaka; kalekal; and ukikiki, or gindai. They are among the most sought after fish for human consumption, DLNR said.

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 fish 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, DLNR said.

To determine which restricted areas to reopen, the division considered habitat value, fishery catch, enforceability and safety. In addition, the division surveyed registered bottom fishers and considered recommendations from the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council.

Based on this process, the division recommended opening up four of the current 12 restricted areas — the two in Maui County and ones off Poipu, Kauai, and Leleiwi, Hawaii island.

Existing regulations will remain in effect and include bottom fish vessel registration, expedited catch reporting, expedited dealer reporting, gear restrictions, commercial size limits, noncommercial bag limits and annual catch limits.

The division will be redefining the deep-7 bottom fish catch reporting system. Reporting grids, employed since 1948, still will be used but will be complemented by sub-grid overlays. This will allow the division to track fish caught in any of the opened restricted areas and institute management actions, including the amendment or immediate closure of a restricted area if necessary, the division said.

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