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Large ship spotted around Maui

Popular bottomfish to be studied at nearly 200 sites around Hawaii

The "Oscar Elton Sette" ship is surveying Hawaii's waters this month to take stock of popular bottomfish. NOAA photo

A 240-foot-long, white ship is sailing around Maui waters in the name of science.

Named after 20th century fisheries scientist, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “Oscar Elton Sette” started in Maui County waters Thursday and will likely leave for Kauai this evening on a journey to study nearly 200 sites.

The ship, carrying 10 to 15 NOAA scientists, is making its fourth annual trip around the main Hawaiian Islands to team up with local fisheries for the bottomfish fishery-independent survey, a study of Hawaii’s “Deep 7,” seven popular species of fish that are managed by state and federal authorities.

Their work helps determine commercial catch limits and ensure a sustainable “Deep 7” fishery for Hawaii, according to NOAA.

People on the south side of Maui could have seen the NOAA ship when it started the survey last week. On Saturday, the ship was located off the northwest tip of Maui. It may be near Lanai and Molokai today before heading up to Kauai this evening. Then toward the latter part of the month, the “Oscar Elton Sette” is anticipated to return to Maui waters, said Benjamin Richards, research fishery biologist with the stock assessment program at Oahu-based Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

The monthlong schedule of stops is weather dependent, he echoed.

Some researchers stay onboard the entire month, and others rotate out in phases, Richards said. The ship also carries eight officers and 12 crew members.

During the monthlong survey, deep-water cameras are used to observe, count and measure the fish, which live between 250 and 1,300 feet in depth, at 176 locations around the main Hawaiian Islands. Smaller boats assist in the studies.

“It’s a cooperative program working with local fisherman and local scientists,” Richards said. “It involves the local community and is designed to benefit Hawaii through better data that helps ensure sustainability.”

Hawaii’s “Deep 7” include opakapaka (pink snapper), onaga (longtail snapper), ehu (squirrelfish snapper), kalekale (Von Siebold’s snapper), gindai (Brigham’s snapper), lehi (silverjaw snapper), and hapuʻupuʻu (Seale’s grouper).

Through the work of the science center and NOAA, along with the help and attention from the local fishing community, the “Deep 7” is not currently overfished, Richards said.

“Stock is doing well,” he said.