HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last year, Garden & Valley Isle Seafood, Inc. exported roughly 300,000 pounds of freshly-caught marlin to the mainland.
The sales added up to nearly $1.5 million worth of striped marlin, blue marlin and spearfish to wholesalers, supermarkets, chefs and restaurants.
"It's a major part of what we export out of the state," said Bob Fram, the company's president.
Hawaii seafood exporters fear those sales may soon suffer serious slowdowns – more specifically, that Congress is about to pull the plug on that lucrative mainland marlin market.
Bills in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House call for amending the Billfish Conservation Act to prevent the commercial export of marlin caught in Hawaiian waters to the mainland.
Florida Rep. Darren Soto introduced the House measure.
"This bill strikes a balance between preserving this traditional cultural fishing in these areas and the overall intent to prevent large scale commercial fishing of these billfish," he said.
Testimony on the measure by NOAA's Office of Sustainable Fisheries said that in the Pacific, "billfish populations are not overfished or subject to overfishing and are being sustainably managed."
The Honolulu Fish Company's Paul Samiere says the legislation just doesn't make sense.
"Here in Hawaii, we have one hook for one fish," he said.
Under the proposed change, commercial fishing vessels could still catch marlin, but wholesalers could only sell it in Hawaii.
"It affects everything," Fram said. "This is going to drop the value tremendously and close opportunities for our company to export."
U.S.-flagged fishermen would also feel the pinch, since a portion of their revenue would no longer come from billfish.
"There's a lot of people behind this really good wild caught resource we have access to. Take that away, they all hurt. They all suffer," Samiere said.
Fram says Hawaii seafood exporters already operate on a thin profit margin, and marlin exports help keep them in the black.
"Our industry is very tough. Seafood wholesalers nationwide average three percent profit in a year," he said.
Hawaii's congressional delegation has not offered comments on the bills.