Hawaii's longline fleet dodges hurricanes

Hawaii's longline fleet dodges hurricanes
Published: Sep. 2, 2015 at 2:39 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 2, 2015 at 5:17 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bigeye tuna caught by Hawaii's longline industry is in short supply right now as the fleet dodges Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena. Some longline vessels that headed out, turned around without catching anything to avoid the powerful storms.

Nico's Pier 38 and Nico's Fish Market are known for fresh fish. Customers consume 600 to 700 pounds of bigeye tuna fillets daily. Ahi prices are going up at the auction, but the restaurant isn't planning to pass the higher cost along to patrons.

"It's something I've been doing for the past 11 years now. I do average price for the year. I'm not going to make any money this month maybe. I don't know how long it's going to last," said owner Nico Chaize.

In August, Hawaii's longline fleet hit the bigeye tuna catch limit of 3,502 metric tons established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Vessels shorter than 80 feet are allowed to fish in the Eastern Pacific, but they have to travel hundreds of miles to get there. Some boats from Hawaii had to ride out Ignacio on Sunday night and Hurricane Jimena isn't too far behind.

"Today there was one boat that unloaded fish, kind of a mediocre load. There's one boat in for the auction tomorrow whereas typically we might see 5 or 6 boats," said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association.

A rule change from the National Marine Fisheries Service would allow Hawaii fishermen to resume catching bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific through deals with the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. A decision by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce could happen by the end of September. Conservation groups, however, have filed a lawsuit to block the change, which would essentially end up adding 3,000 metric tons to Hawaii's limit through quota transfer agreements. Earthjustice is representing the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity in this suit.

"Bigeye tuna is subject to overfishing. We're pulling more of it out of the ocean than the population can sustain. If we want to have bigeye tuna around for our children and our children's children, we need to manage that fishery very responsibly," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.

"They worked with scientists to look at the impacts of these arrangements, transfer arrangements. They do not compromise the conservation objectives of the West Central Pacific Fishery Commission," said Paul Dalzell of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

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