Hawaii’s Restricted Bottomfish Areas Reopened by BLNR

Bottom fishing
Bottom fishing off the Hawaiian island of Maui Nui on Nov. 11, 2018. Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved the re-opening of eight restricted areas that had been closed to fishing since 2007. File photo: Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources.

On Feb. 25, Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved the re-opening of eight restricted areas that had been closed to fishing since 2007. The re-openings were effective immediately.

This follows a similar action from nearly three years ago, when four of the 12 total Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas (BFRA) were reopened for both commercial and non-commercial fishing of Deep-7 bottomfish species, among Hawai‘i’s most popular fish for consumption.

In its presentation to the BLNR regarding the reopening, the agency’s Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) said it “believes that opening of all 12 of the BFRAs (four opened as of July 2019), will not adversely affect the overall sustainability of the Main Hawaiian Island (MHI) Deep-7 fishery, and will be a benefit to local commercial and non-commercial bottom fishers.”

DAR representatives told land board members that recently developed Annual Catch Limit-based management, coupled with rules and strategies, “can together effectively manage the fishery.” These include:

  • Management informed by stock assessments from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center,
  • Mandatory bottomfish vessel registration,
  • Expedited catch reporting,
  • Expedited dealer reporting,
  • Gear restrictions, and
  • Commercial-size limits

The main island Deep-7 fishery exists in both state and federal waters, and is managed under a cooperative, joint approach. The state, the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office and Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council develop regulations. The agencies agree on one set of regulations to make compliance easier.

The designation of Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas has changed over the years after being established in 1998 with the original 19 areas, and replaced in 2007 by the 12 areas. Data gathering and methodologies also have changed over time. The 2019 proposal, to open just four of 12 bottom-fishing areas, was based, according to the BLNR, “on an abundance of caution and the desire to take a conservative approach pending further monitoring.”

Over the past 10 fishing years, the MHI Deep-7 fishery has landed an average of 232,586 pounds of mixed Deep-7 species each year. That’s less than 50% of the current 492,000-pound annual catch limit (ACL).

Since 1948, the catch from the fishery has only exceeded the limit five times, during the peak years of 1985-1989. The Aquatic Resources division submission to the land board states that “though the MHI Deep 7 fisheries may rebound in coming years… likelihood that catch will near the 492,000-pound ACL is low.”

“The most recent (2021) update to the 2018 stock assessment again found the deep-7 complex is being fished at sustainable levels. Therefore, DAR is comfortable taking an adaptive management approach to co-management by opening the BFRAs and relying on other conservation tools to sustain the fishery,” according to a division administrator, Brian Neilson.

The BLNR said it is requiring the Aquatic Resources division to provide an update after the next Deep-7 stock assessment
is complete.