On Feb. 25, Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved the re-opening of eight Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas (BFRAs) that had been closed to commercial 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 BFRAs 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 DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) said it “believes that opening of all twelve of the BFRAs (four opened as of July 2019), will not adversely affect the overall sustainability of the Main Hawaiian Island 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 these 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
- 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.
Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas’ designation has changed over the years after being established in 1998 with an original 19 areas, and then replaced in 2007 by the 12 in place today. Data gathering and methodologies also changed since establishment. 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-lbs. of mixed Deep-7 species each year. That’s less than 50% of the current 492,000-pound annual catch limit.
Since 1948, the catch from the fishery has only exceeded the current annual catch limit five times, during the peak years of 1985-1989. The Aquatic Resources division submittal 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-lb 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 Division of Aquatic Resources 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 completed.