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Inouye-influenced rule enables extra Hawaii tuna fishing

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    A federal judge has ruled longline fishermen in Hawaii may continue catching more bigeye tuna, or ahi, than the maximum set by international regulators. U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, issued a ruling rejecting environmental groups’ claims that the extra fishing is illegal.

Many Hawaii residents were thankful for plentiful platters of ahi tuna they were able to enjoy over the holidays. But few realized the critical role the late Sen. Daniel Inouye played in making sure Hawaii fishermen could get it to them.

A federal rule allowing Hawaii-based fishermen to catch more bigeye tuna than permitted under international agreements can be traced to his time as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In 2010, catch limits forced Hawaii fishermen to stop catching bigeye in waters west of Hawaii in November. That left Hawaii markets without much locally caught tuna just as holiday demand spiked.

This year, Hawaii longline fishermen hit their limit in August. But the National Marine Fisheries Service created new limits for U.S. territories like Guam and allowed Hawaii’s fleet to use up to half of them.

The fisheries service’s Pacific Islands regional administrator, Michael Tosatto, said Congress directed the federal agencies to create the quota transfer program in a 2012 appropriations bill.

Inouye was Senate appropriations committee chairman at the time, not long before his death in December 2012. The senator’s then-chief of staff said Inouye was troubled to see local fishermen abiding by quotas that U.S. diplomats had agreed to, only to see foreign fishermen keep fishing.

“It was this big injustice,” said Jennifer Sabas. “Our local guys — because of this State Department policy — were getting squeezed. And every time they turned their boat around they were watching the Taiwanese come in and just scoop fish right from out under them.”

Environmental groups sued to block this arrangement, saying all nations should reduce their catch to protect a species that’s being overfished. But U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled last month that the extra fishing is legal.

Part of the problem for Hawaii fishermen, said John Kaneko, program manager of the Hawaii Seafood Council, is that other nations don’t reliably track their catch and quotas. Hawaii’s take is strictly monitored and documented by the fisheries service, the longline fleet and the Honolulu fish auction, he said.

Further, small island nations with rich fishing grounds have no limits and may sell fishing rights, he said.

“If these island nations have no limit on the development of their own fisheries and they can trade on that limit, then there’s essentially no quota out there that’s being enforced except for the quota that’s being applied to the U.S. boats,” Kaneko said.

Much of the bigeye caught in the Pacific is snagged by vessels that use giant nets called purse seine. These vessels don’t have bigeye quotas because they catch the fish accidentally.

Instead, the 26-member nation Western and Central Pacific and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission — which sets Hawaii’s international catch limit — regulates the extent purse seiners use tools called fish aggregating devices to attract tuna.

Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said it’s against the spirit of conservation or good management for any commission member to increase its catch because they feel others aren’t being held accountable.

“Two wrongs do not make a right,” she said. Though the U.S. fleet says it’s the only responsible player, the quota transfer “is not responsible at all,” she said.

Nickson said the commission must devise a way to hold all members accountable for their fishing.

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  • If we all work together, we should be able to eradicate bigeye tuna in my lifetime. And I’m sure there are more species we can drive extinct if we just keep trying. Future generations will thank us.

  • Article wrote: “Hawaii can thank the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye for the plentiful ahi tuna found at parties around the islands during the holidays.”

    On the contrary that is nothing to be thankful for. I’m sure Uncle Dan was paid off or received some favor during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sadly future generations will suffer, as ryan02 commented.


  • So much for Hokule‘a’s Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”)voyage. Greed has and will continue the steady decline of these beautiful islands!

  • Some of the commenters would do well to do more research and broaden their perspective. The Hawaii longline fleet catches a small fraction of the bigeye tuna in the Pacific. The vast majority of bigeye tuna are caught by giant purse seine vessels that have much, much larger quotas. Most of those purse seine caught bigeye are juveniles. That is what is really hurting the Pacific bigeye population, but the countries that field the purse seine fleets (including US purse seiners) resist cutting back on their allocations. In the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that sets these quotas, the purse seine fishery countries have great influence. In my view, they are the ones who are overfishing. The Guam and CNMI allocations from which these additional bigeye quotas were derived are mainly untouched by their local fishing vessels. And, the reason why the Hawaii longline fleet reached their Hawaii quota so early (August) was because they’ve been having a banner year of catches. That suggests a high abundance of bigeye tuna this year around Hawaii. There is a lot more to this than you know.

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