HILO » Hawaii’s longline fisheries in the central Pacific have reached their bigeye tuna quota much earlier than expected for the second year in a row.
Eric Kingma, international fisheries enforcement coordinator for the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, said this year’s higher catch rate is in line with last year’s, which he had thought to be “an anomaly” because of El Nino.
“It’s the same number of hooks (in the water),” said Hawaii Longline Association president Sean Martin. Catch rates are 40 percent higher than historical numbers, he said.
This year’s closure of the western and central Pacific longline grounds starts today and runs through the end of 2016. The eastern Pacific region will close Monday to boats larger than 24 meters long.
“Some boats will choose to go fishing (in the eastern region), and for some of the smaller boats, it’s quite a run for them,” Martin told The Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
About three-fourths of the 130 active boats in Hawaii’s longline fleet will still be able to fish in eastern waters.
Last year, the fisheries closed in August, the earliest the region had ever been restricted. The longline fleet returned to the waters two months later, staying below the quotas of U.S. territories in the Pacific.
Officials are still working to authorize that same quota-borrowing process, Kingma said.
Because the longline fleet reached the 3,500-metric ton catch limit early this year, they will have to travel farther to catch bigeye tuna. That could mean that handline fishermen on the Big Island see higher prices for their product.
“The first fish they land is going to be that much older by the time it gets to the block,” said Suisan division manager Kyle Sumner. “On Oahu, what’ll happen is there’ll be more low-quality fish there, so the low price will come up a little bit.”
“Our higher-quality handline fish will get higher prices,” Sumner said.