HONOLULU – Hawaii fish lovers may be able to enjoy fresh local catch of opakapaka, onaga and other favored bottomfish for a longer period during the next fishing season because federal regulators are expanding the fishery’s annual catch quota.
Hawaii fishermen have been adhering to a catch limit on bottomfish for several years after studies showed the species were overfished in the islands in 2005. For the past two years, the limit was 254,000 pounds.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on Friday decided to expand the quota by 28 percent to 325,000 pounds after taking into account a recently completed scientific study that offers a better and more thorough understanding of Hawaii’s bottomfish population.
Fishermen hit this year’s limit in March – only six-and-a-half months into the season that began Sept. 1. The expanded quota may allow fishermen to fish – and deliver fish to markets and restaurants – for more months next season.
”The larger number this year may hopefully result in a longer fishing year, so there will be a shorter close during the summertime,” Mark Mitsuyasu, the council’s bottomfish coordinator, said Monday.
The weather will likely dictate how fast fishermen hit the new quota. If there are relatively more clear days, fishermen will have more opportunities to fish and the limit may be reached sooner rather than later.
Hawaii’s bottomfish fishermen use hand-line gear to target snappers and groupers that live in deep waters. Native Hawaiians used hand lines to fish from canoes for hundreds of years. Today, fishermen take advantage of power reels to haul in their gear, fish finder equipment to determine how deep and where the fish are, and GPS devices to navigate to fishing grounds.
Mitsuyasu said imports make up more than 50 percent of the bottomfish consumed locally, though this figure also includes species such as tai, or sea bream, that don’t live in Hawaii waters and may be brought in only from elsewhere.