The temporary closure will bar catching seven bottom-fish species: ehu, gindai, kalekale, lehi, onaga, opakapaka and hapuupuu. The state said it is repeating the closure ordered last year to help ease the fishing pressure on the popular species.
Maui fishers said they will observe the ban but questioned the need. Fish purchasers said it’s just something they have to deal with again.
A bottom-fish ban was in effect last year from May 15 to Sept. 31. This year’s closure will last until Aug. 31.
“How are you going to make a living when you can only work for half a year?” asked Deytyn Asami, a Lahaina commercial fisherman. “That’s what those guys don’t think about. Why don’t they take away their job for half a year? See how they like it.”
Asami said he can catch other commercial species such as opelu and “kind of nickel and dime your way for the rest of the year.” He maintains that fish catches have not gone down over several years but have remained stable or even increased.
Not being able to fish for five months will have an impact, said fellow fisherman John Meston.
“It’s going to hurt, for sure, but what can I do?” he said
Meston, who assists fisheries specialists with tagging fish for studies, said he thinks the government does not have “real hard evidence on how much fish there is.”
He said he believes there are fish in the ocean but not many fishers.
At Mama’s Fish House, the Kuau restaurant that is among the biggest fish buyers on Maui, purchaser Mike Pascher said he will do the same as last year and not use the species affected by the closure. Although bottom fish caught in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and other Pacific fisheries still can be sold in Hawaii, Pascher said they are not as fresh as the fish caught in local waters. The restaurant will turn to other locally caught fresh fish such as uku, monchong, mahi, ono and ahi.
Darrel Plimpton of Maui Seafoods said the seasonal ban “affects sales, naturally.”
He said he will try not to import bottom fish, although some of his customers need the fish on their menus even if it is imported.
The quality of imported fish is not as good, and he said imports “battle head to head in the market” with locally caught fish, driving down fish prices, while there is “zero control” over how much fish can be caught outside of Hawaii.
He said he is happy that the government is doing an analysis on the fish caught in Hawaii.
After last year’s ban ended, he said, “prices were where they should be” for the locally caught bottom fish. He was able to pay more to fishermen and charge more to the restaurants he services.
While he doesn’t like the ban from a “financial standpoint,” he said he’s pleased, from a “long-term sustainability standpoint.”
The state Aquatics Division recommended closing the bottom-fish fishery after commercial landings data showed the total allowable catch of 178,000 pounds for a season was reached in mid-March. Total allowable catch is based on analysis of the fish stock. The limit is intended to prevent excessive taking of bottom-fish species.
The state’s closure will complement a bottom-fishing closure of federal waters that will take effect on Wednesday. The federal government manages ocean waters from three to 12 nautical miles out from all U.S. coastlines.
“Since 2005, bottom fish in the main Hawaiian Islands have been declared to be in a state of overfishing. If the federal total allowable catch were to be exceeded, this could have adverse consequences on Hawaii’s fishery in the future,” said Laura H. Thielen, state DLNR chairwoman.
Since the total allowable catch limit was recorded, DLNR spokeswoman Debbie Ward said, the state asked commercial fishers to voluntarily cease fishing.
That wasn’t stopping Asami and his fellow fishermen.
“We’re still going,” Asami said Wednesday morning after being awakened by a reporter’s phone call following a night of fishing.
“We didn’t volunteer to have the regulation to have the closed season anyway, so we’re not going to voluntary stop fishing early. That’s what most of the guys I fish with say.”
“There was no real warning,” he said. “It’s only closing half a month early anyway. It’s only a couple of weeks early. . . It’s still a couple of weeks.”
• Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.
Onaga were scarce when the picture at the top was taken last December in Kahului, and now they are likely to become even harder to come by, thanks to a statewide ban on bottom-fishing.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Fact BoxFishing Season Closed
Species affected: Ehu, gindai, kalekale, lehi, onaga, opakapaka and hapuupuu.
State Waters (up to 3 miles from shorelines): Bottom-fishing around main Hawaiian Islands will be closed Monday through Aug. 31.
Federal Waters: Bottom-fishing around main Hawaiian Islands will be closed Wednesday through Aug. 31.
Maps of restricted fishing areas will be available on the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Web site beginning Monday: http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/.
Notice of the federal closing is posted in the Federal Register, Vol. 73, No. 67, Monday, April 7, 2008; 18717.