Few effects seen in closing NW fishery
The area supplies just 1% of the state's fish, a UH study finds
Ending bottomfishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will likely have a relatively small economic impact on Hawaii, according to a new University of Hawaii study.
The study previewed last month at the Hawaii Conservation Conference looked at how ending the fishery would economically affect the restaurant, wholesale and other industries that use fish caught by the eight remaining vessels still operating in the islands' waters, which became a federal monument in June.
Bottomfishing in the 140,000 square miles of the marine monument is scheduled to end in five years under the proclamation that created the monument. The fishing technique involves trolling for fish such as red snapper and opakapaka using hooks and lines.
There are 36 jobs and $192,000 in payroll associated with the remote islands' bottomfish industry. But while restaurants purchase about $20 million in Hawaii commercial fish, only about $300,000 of that is bottomfish originating in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, according to the study presented by Makena Coffman, a graduate student in economics and one of the study's authors.
Looking at the history of supply and prices for two bottomfish, onaga and opakapaka, the authors found that while there have been large variations in quantities of the fish coming into the market, prices have remained relatively flat.
Based on the 10-year December averages for the fish, the study found that closing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands fishery would boost onaga prices from about $5.89 per pound to $6.73 per pound, and opakapaka prices from $4.84 to $5.44 per pound.
"While these are significant price increases, that's kind of arguable, I guess. It doesn't seem like that much. And this is also worst-case-scenerio," Coffman said.
Jarad Makaiau, habitat coordinator for the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, who attended the presentation, said the debate over the ending the fishery isn't economic, it's social.
Losing the fishery is likely to have an insignificant impact on the local economy because it is small, he said.
However, some fishermen have been operating in the islands for 20 years, others are younger but carrying on the tradition of their fathers, and most of the crew on the vessels are native Hawaiian, he said.
"The cultural impact of this closure is much more substantial than the economic," he said.