Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Research Subsidizes Commercial Bottomfishing Trips

posted in: January 2007 | 0

The June 2006 presidential order establishing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) Marine National Monument gives the eight remaining federally permitted bottomfishers four more years to fish there before all commercial fishing within the monument is prohibited. Before the monument was established, the area, then known as the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, was in the process of becoming a National Marine Sanctuary. Over the years, there had been some public discussion about compensating the affected bottomfishermen in some way, perhaps by buying the federal permits that allow them to fish there with either private or public funds.

The buyout never happened. In a November 2006 commentary for the Honolulu Advertiser, Jay Nelson, director of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, wrote that the organization, which had been negotiating a buyout with the fishermen since 2005, had withdrawn its offer because the fishermen had not responded to its proposal by the deadline of September 30, 2006, which had been extended after only two fishermen responded by a previous deadline of August 11. A government buyout, which was proposed in 2003 as part of the Hawai`i Fisheries Disaster Relief Program (FDRP), also failed to materialize, with the money intended for that purpose going instead directly to bottomfishermen, longliners, lobster fishermen, and two fishing groups, including the Hawai`i Longline Association, which will receive most of the relief funds.

Even so, NWHI bottomfishermen will be receiving some compensation over the next year or so through four research grants, totaling more than $1 million, funded by the FDRP, in addition to direct assistance totaling roughly $200,000. All of the FDRP research projects will be covered through a 2003 congressional appropriation of $5 million to assist Hawai`i-based fishermen affected by federal closures or restrictions, and will be administered by the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research.

Bottomfish Samples
A project by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center researchers Gerard DiNardo and Robert Humphreys proposes using commercial bottomfishers to collect samples of five species of fish to be used “to re-estimate life history parameters and assess connectivity between isolated populations” – a task that was deemed a high priority at a Western Pacific Fishery Management Council-sponsored stock assessment workshop in 2004 and an Ecosystem Science and Management Planning Workshop in April 2005.

Because research vessels can’t catch enough fish to gather adequate sample sizes, and because market sampling limits their ability to collect geo-referenced hard parts and tissue samples for demographic and genetic analyses, the researchers chose to use commercial bottomfishing vessels to collect their samples.

“Purchasing bottomfish directly from a local fisherman provides geo-referenced hard part and tissue samples to re-estimate life history parameters, but the data constitute a subsample of the total catch. We have concluded that the most efficient means to collect necessary bottomfish information to re-estimate life history parameters and advance our assessment models is a combined market sampling and purchasing program,” their proposal states.

The researchers plan to contract with bottomfishermen Richard Tamashiro, Leonard Yamada, Dennis Kamikawa, Gary Dill, Billy Wakefield, Bobby Gomes, Timm Timoney, and Zenen Ozoa to collect fish, and they plan to purchase $221,760 worth of their fish (an estimated 7,200 fish at $4.40 per pound – 40 fish per species each month for 12 months in each of three zones: the Main Hawaiian Islands, the NWHI Mau zone, and the NWHI Ho`omalu zone).

The fish samples will be processed and stored at the PIFSC West Laboratory where the PIFSC Life History Program will conduct age, growth, and reproductive studies. Also, the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology will conduct genetics studies. This work is not covered under the research project and will be conducted after all the samples have been collected.

Ciguatera in Kahala
The FDRP has also approved two projects by Northwestern Hawaiian Islands bottomfisherman Gary Dill totaling $408,409. Dill will receive $145,995 to test kahala (amberjack) caught in the NWHI for ciguatera toxin.

“Due mostly to improperly interpreted health statistics and the need for eye-catching headlines, the kahala—a fish once prized more highly than its cousins in the ulua family – has become feared as a poisonous fish, thus ruining its marketability as a superior and widely accepted food fish. If it could be scientifically shown that the incidence of ciguatera in kahala is insignificant, then a marketing/educational campaign could be launched to help kahala regain its former prized status,” Dill’s proposal states.

The project will involve each of the eight federally permitted NWHI bottomfishermen in at least one fishing trip with a trained toxin tester. To subsidize trip expenses, the fishermen will be given boat use fees, “giving these victims of Federal restrictions a meaningful economic boost, even though it be small. These men will also become a part of a real bit of science that is actually designed to benefit them,” Dill writes in his proposal. They will test at least 500 kahala, (50 from each of the 10 most heavily fished banks).

If it is proven that NWHI kahala is not toxic, “this scientifically achieved result can then be used to promote the sale of kahala, thereby benefiting the very fishermen who are being so financially burdened by the Federal restrictions. The promotion of NWHI kahala will be long-term, beginning after the project completion, but may eventually help the fisherman with another specie to sell and reduce by-catch at the same time. If the incidence is too high, the fisherman will have participated in the science effort, been rewarded with a small economic subsidy, and another important piece of knowledge of our NWHI will have been gained,” Dill states.

Uku Movement
Dill also plans to tag uku (grey snapper) caught in the NWHI to better understand the movements of these fish.

“We need to know about all of our target species, but, in order to keep the cost of this study down, would like to study the uku first. The uku is a mid-priced specie, more important to the Mau Zone (over half of total pounds landed) than to the Ho’omalu Zone, but very important to both. It is more often caught in abundance in relatively shallow waters, which makes it a better candidate for surviving tagging techniques such as we intend. The uku will serve well as the first specie tagged from the bottom fishing vessels, and studied with an eye to improving catchability by tracking movement,” the proposal states.

Kim Holland, a researcher with the University of Hawai`i’s Institute of Marine Biology, which is conducting a study in the NWHI concentrating on acoustic tags in seven shallow water species, including uku, will assist with Dill’s project, and make his data collection and analysis facilities available. The project, Dill states, augments and widens the scope of the HIMB study.

This project will also involve NWHI bottomfishermen, who will “place as many tagged fish in the water as possible (about 3,030 fish),” and be paid for the fish that are tagged based on their weight and market price, and boat use fees (i.e., fuel costs, provisions for the technician), the proposal states.

“The fisherman will still have to catch his load of fish to yield profit, but the tagged uku will serve as part of that load, at market prices,” the proposal states.

A tagging technician hired through the University of Hawai`i will travel with the bottomfishermen on their regular fishing trips to the NWHI. The fishermen will catch the uku and the technician will inspect, tag and release the fish. The technician will also deploy and, when necessary, retrieve the acoustic listening stations, as well as collect data such as fork length, location, depth and tag number.

Thirty of the fish will be fitted with individually coded transmitters, allowing their movement to be to be tracked by listening stations at key fishing grounds, which will be determined in conjunction with HIMB.

More Tagging
The non-profit Pacific Islands Fisheries Group will also be doing a tagging study using NWHI and Main Hawaiian Island bottomfishers to tag and release 4,000 fish over two years. Half of the tagged fish will be opakapaka, onaga, ehu, and kalekale. (The term bottomfish encompasses several species, including opakapaka, onaga, ehu, kalekale, hapu`upu`u, gindai, butaguchi, and uku.)

The project is expected to cost $235,000, with about half of that going to NWHI bottomfishermen ($60,000 for three Ho`omalu zone trips; $60,000 for 6 Mau zone trips).

Clayward Tam, coordinator for the state Department of Aquatic Resources ulua tagging project, will serve as an advisor.

“Management decisions are being made without understanding the extent to which these species move, migrate or aggregate,” the proposal states.

The PIFG will develop and maintain a tagging database; coordinate with HIMB to provide collection vials and instructions for fishermen; conduct a workshop with fishermen on proper tissue collecting, storing and recording procedures; and implement an outreach and education program on the importance of returning captured tagged fish.

— Teresa Dawson

Volume 17, Number 7 January 2007

Leave a Reply