Hawaii Longline Fishery Achieves Global Sustainability Certification

The Hawaii Longline Association’s (HLA) swordfish, bigeye and yellowfin tuna fishery has achieved certification for sustainable fishing practices, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced in mid-September.

The certification follows a rigorous 16-month review carried out by third-party assessment group Control Union UK Limited. The fishery is the first from Hawaii to enter the MSC program.

The MSC Fisheries Standard is a globally recognized standard used to assess if a fishery is well-managed, and reflects the most up-to-date understanding of internationally accepted fisheries science and management.

The Fisheries Standard has three core principles that every certified fishery must meet including: 1) sustainable fish stocks, 2) minimizing environmental impact, and 3) effective fisheries management. As well as preserving fish stocks and the marine environment, the MSC certification process ensures that products can be traced to a MSC certified fishery through required recordkeeping.

This assessment covers two separate components of the longline fishery carried out by members of the HLA: the Hawaii shallow-set swordfish longline fishery and the Hawaii deep-set tuna longline fishery. The fleet is comprised of 142 locally owned vessels. The shallow-set fishery targets swordfish at night, whereas the deep-set fishery targets bigeye tuna during the day.

Shallow-set trips are subject to 100% observer coverage, while a coverage of at least 20% is aimed at for deep-set trips.

MSC U.S. Program Director Nicole Condon offered congratulations to the Hawaii Longline Association on achieving the milestone.

“The fishery has demonstrated that they’ve put in the hard work to ensure fishing is done in an environmentally sustainable manner, supporting both future generations and our oceans,” she said. “As someone who lived in Oahu for several years, I’m thrilled to personally welcome the first fishery from Hawaii into the program.”

The Hawaii longline fishery dates to 1917, when it was established by Japanese immigrant fishermen. Today, it is the largest food producing industry in Hawaii, with unique cultural, nutritional, and economic importance in a state whose residents consume twice as much seafood per capita as the rest of the country.

The fishery is low volume and high value — with landings worth about $125 million annually — making Honolulu one of the nation’s most valuable commercial fishing ports year after year. 80% of landings are consumed locally in Hawaii, and nearly 100% stay within the U.S.

Overall, the fishery produces 95% of the nation’s bigeye tuna landings, and 50-to-60% of swordfish and yellowfin tuna landings, according to the HLA.

“HLA is proud to receive the certification as it is recognition of the fleet’s stringent management and monitoring regime,” HLA Executive Director Eric Kingma said. “We believe our fleet produces the best quality and highest level of monitored tuna in the world. We look forward to working with MSC, WPRFMC (Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council), NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) and others on the continued and long-term production of sustainably and responsibly harvested fish landed by our fleet.”

An important component of the fishery is the Honolulu Fish Auction, which is the only daily tuna auction in the United States. The auction, which is celebrating its 70th year in business in 2022, plays a key role in promoting the best quality and highest market value of fish landed by the Hawaii longline fleet.

“MSC certification provides market validation of the sustainability of Hawaii bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Sustainability is the result of strict US fishery management under the WPRFMC and NMFS process. Hawaii Seafood Council Program Manager John Kaneko said: Hawaii’s longline fishery is now over 100 years old and counting. Now that’s what I call sustainable.”

 “Local seafood is vital to Hawaii’s diverse ethnic communities,” he added. “It is essential to island culture, traditions, quality of life and Hawaii’s growing reputation as a food tourism destination.”

Mike Goto, manager of the Honolulu Fish Auction explained that all Hawaii-based longline fleet offloads at one location in Honolulu Harbor and the auction is the central hub for the supply of fish throughout Hawaii.

“Several companies that buy fish through the auction system will be competing for MSC certified fish and they will distribute that fresh, premium fish to Hawaii and US mainland consumers,” he said.