Tighter ahi catch limits could drive up prices

Updated: Dec. 29, 2016 at 6:22 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While prices for ahi are relatively stable this holiday season, some say they could rise next year as fishing limits tighten.

This year, Hawaii's fishing industry is limited to catching about 3,500 tons of big-eye tuna. That quota drops to about 3,300 tons in 2017.

"We will likely get to that quota ... sometime around in June or July," said Paul Dalzell, senior scientist with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

"If we have to wait till October to get deals in place, we'll start to see scarcities and increases in prices."

The last time there was a shortage was last year, when the fishing industry hit its quota.

"We were seeing ahi at $25 or $30 a pound," Dalzell said.

But Hawaii's fishing industry is hoping a new business-friendly Trump Administration will increase the limits or get rid of them altogether for the Hawaii region. They claim the stock of big-eye tuna near Hawaiian waters is not threatened.

Environmentalists disagree.

"This is a species that is over fished. The quotas are to conserve the species over the long-term," said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii.

Environmentalists say the industry gets around the quotas anyway by making trade deals with other Pacific Island territories, such as Guam and Saipan.

"I think we're going to see a big push by WestPac ... to lighten up on conservation measures and allow the fishing industry to in my opinion exploit and go for as much fish as they can now," said Ziegler.

The current quotas run through next year while the U.S. negotiates with other countries to set new limits starting in 2018.

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