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Hawaii News

Isle bottom fish make early exit from stores

Store shelves and restaurants will be out of Hawaii’s popular, fresh bottom fish soon as state and federal officials shut down catches in the main Hawaiian islands on Saturday.

They include pink and red snappers that go by the local names opakapaka, ehu, onaga, gindai, kalekale and lehi and the grouper or sea bass known as hapuupuu.

It’s the earliest that the bottom-fish season has closed.

The earliest previous closure was April 16 in 2008.

The closures of several bottom-fish catches has been occurring for the past four years in state and federal waters in an effort to keep their numbers at a sustainable level.

But new research means quotas might increase once the season opens again on Aug. 31.

"It’s really good news," said Layne Nakagawa, a commercial fisherman who has been working with federal fisheries officials.

Nakagawa said Hawaii fishermen have been saying consistently that they believe there are more bottom fish than initially assumed by state officials.

Jarad Makaiau, a National Marine Fisheries Service policy analyst, said a draft 2011 stock assessment concluded that higher levels of harvest can be sustained without jeopardizing the stock.

As a result, the total catch quota likely will be substantially more next year, he said.

A Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council committee recommended in late February to increase the catch amount to 363,000 pounds a year, Makaiau said.

That’s up from the current quota of 254,000 pounds.

But the fish species will be off-limits early this year anyway because no formal determination has been made by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The date for the bottom-fish closure is determined through estimating the day when the quota is met.

Nakagawa said the state was off considerably in its estimate last year.

Fishing ended about 48,000 pounds short of the quota, which amounted to about $300,000 in lost revenues for fishing crews, he said.

Nakagawa said lower fishing catches are more related to foul weather than a decrease in fishing stock.

Scientists have difficulty estimating the number of so-called deep-seven fish because they dwell at depths of 300 to 900 feet. National Marine Fisheries Service officials have been attempting to determine their numbers more accurately by a series of tests, including the use of sonar and an underwater camera.

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