Bottom fish known as the "Deep 7" are onaga (red snapper), opakapaka (pink snapper), ehu (red snapper), hapuupuu (grouper), lehi (reddish snapper), gindai (flower snapper) and kalekale (Von Siebold's snapper). Midnight tonight marks the start of a statewide ban on catching these species which has been implemented to protect the fishery and which ends Aug. 31. [ Enlarge image
7 bottom fish now off limits
Fishermen are banned from catching seven of the most desired local bottom fish -- including onaga and opakapaka -- beginning tonight in an effort to preserve these species in the long run, according to state and federal regulations.
This is the second consecutive year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed fishing of the "Deep 7" -- onaga, ehu, gindai, kalekale, opakapaka, lehi and hapuupuu -- because the catch had exceeded the amount set for the season. Bottom-fishing within 200 miles of the main Hawaiian Islands is banned beginning after midnight and ending Aug. 31.
"This year we had poor weather in December that reduced the catch for the Oahu fleet in particular," said Dan Polhemus, administrator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Aquatic Resources Division. "Then we had a nice flat February. It was great bottom-fishing weather, so catching just took off. The landings accelerated far above what we had anticipated."
At yesterday morning's fish auction at the United Fishing Agency, fishermen and buyers expressed disappointment and concern that business might drop with no bottom-fishing allowed.
"It definitely affects business because we can't sell what our customers want," said Guy Tamashiro, owner of the popular Tamashiro Market. "People love the onaga and ehu. Those are really good fishes. They will be missed. But if it's to save the stock, we're OK with that."
Tamashiro said he and other businesses probably will import these fishes to meet some demand, but added that most residents prefer the local catch because it is fresher.
"It's a disappointment to me that recreational fishermen are prohibited to fish as well," said Ronald Tam, of Hawaii Kai, who catches bottom fish about once a month for his family. "These are the best fish there is."
Officials hoped that fishing would not exceed the 178,000 pounds set for this year's season, which began in October and was supposed to end May 1. Fishing had reached the limit by mid-March, according to reports submitted by dealers and fishermen, and had increased closer to 181,000 yesterday, Polhemus said.
NOAA also banned the selling of these bottom fishes if they are caught locally. If a seller can prove the fish were caught prior to the ban, officials will allow them to be sold.
Polhemus said improvements in fishing technology are partly responsible for the increases in the catch.
"Fishing power has undoubtedly escalated," he said. "Over the years we have better depth finders, GPS systems and hydraulic and electric reels, which means you're no longer pulling fish up by hand."
Bob Moffitt, fishery biologist for NOAA, said officials are looking at re-evaluating the allowable fishing amount for next season, which begins in October. That amount is based on information gathered by fishermen and a formula that would allow long-term fishing of these species.