This time around, not a single angry word came from Hawai`i’s commercial bottomfish fishers, even though their annual catch limit (ACL) over the next few years will be tens of thousands of pounds less than it’s been in recent years.
Last year, the fishers and Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) railed against a proposed new stock assessment and annual catch limit for the Main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish complex that would have cut the fishery’s 2014-2015 ACL by about 80,000 pounds. But after an independent review committee found several flaws with the stock assessment, the National Marine Fisheries Service, at Wespac’s urging, allowed the ACL to remain at 346,000 pounds.
NMFS’s Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center also agreed to work on a new stock assessment, due in 2018, and to base its recommended ACLs in the meantime on the model used for the 2011 assessment. The science center would, however, incorporate more recent catch data.
Running the model with three years’ worth of new catch data, the center found that the maximum sustainable yield for the combined catch of seven species of bottomfish dropped by 113,000 pounds. And because of uncertainties posed by using the old model, the NMFS working group that decides the acceptable risk of overfishing took a more conservative approach. It recommended that the ACL be set at a level that poses no more than a 38 percent risk of overfishing, rather than the previous acceptable level of 41 percent.
Under the current assessment, a ACL of 302,000 pounds would pose a 38 percent risk of overfishing.
At Wespac’s meeting last month, council staff recommended that NMFS adopt a phased-in approach, where the ACL would be set at 326,000 pounds for the 2015-2016 fishing year (which represents a 44 percent risk of overfishing), a ACL of 314,000 pounds for the 2016-2017 year (a 41 percent risk), and 302,000 pounds for the 2017-2018 year.
Under a proposed revision to National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the phased-in approach would be allowed so long as overfishing was prevented, said Marlowe Sabater, council’s marine ecosystem scientist.
He added that it’s unlikely the fishery will hit those ACLs, since its annual catches in recent years have been less than 300,000 pounds. However, in the 2013-2014 year, the fishery caught 309,485 pounds.
“If the fishery performs closely to the 2013-2014 fishing year, the fishery can potentially close around early to mid-August [with a 302,000-pound ACL. If the fishery performance peaks and trends maximum landing each month, this level of catch would result in a five-month potential fishery closure starting early April to August,” a Wespac staff report states.
As of June 25, the fishery had caught only 280,881 pounds, or 81.2 percent of its ACL.
The council unanimously approved its staff’s recommendation.